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Research shows no causal link between social media use and summer riots

A report from the University of Manchester has refuted claims made by some commentators, including MPs and government ministers, that social media were a factor in either inciting or encouraging the riots that took place in the UK last summer.

The report, on the contrary, argues that social media were proven to have played a positive and constructive role in assisting riot-hit communities at the time.

The original accusations made against social media were mostly directed towards Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook.

The riots themselves had been participated in mainly by younger people in different parts of the country within the space of a few days. They had been characterised by violence – directed chiefly against the police; destruction and arson of buildings in retail areas; and extensive looting of general retail items.

It had been alleged that Twitter especially had been the main tool used by those co-ordinating the riots; and that those participating in the criminal activity had done so largely as a result of receiving instructions, strategic information, or straightforward encouragement via tweets to their computers or mobile phones.

The negative attitude towards social media by some commentators was such that the government was even considering restricting its use.

The University of Manchester research, however, examined 2.4 million tweets and found that the accusations did not stand up to scrutiny.

What it did find however was evidence that Twitter exchanges had been instrumental in helping communities to clean up the streets in the aftermath of the riots.

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