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Public notebook

Publish first, police second… is that how it works?

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The other evening I watched some of the Channel 4 documentary Coppers, in which UK police officers were sharing their disquiet about how people they deal with seem to phone the police rather than deal with their problems themselves.

Could it be that there is another contradictory trend, for people to take evidence of crimes to their social networks first, when the police might be more appropriate?

Two cases spring to mind. One, which was a tabloid cause celebré this morning, is the ten-year-old boy who took a picture of a mugger leaving the scene of a crime.

According to Th Sun, he…

He snapped Royal as he fled on a bike then posted the pic online. Cops identified and nicked Royal who was fined in Darlington, Co Durham.

Why not call the police? And the police “praised Alex’s ‘quick thinking'”. Really?

The other was the cat-in-the-wheelie-bin lady, who was caught on someone’s private CCTV committing an act of animal cruelty. The footage was posted to YouTube and then a web community took up the cause of identifying the woman (something they did very quickly).

It may be that the socially acceptable behaviours that emerges, that becomes a norm, is that we post everything to the web and then direct the police to it. At some point this is likely to incite real-world vigilantism, at some point this is likely to compromise evidence in a case, or the ability of a court to hold an impartial jury trial.

: : Lastly, a ten-year-old on Twitter – really? I hear parents wondering whether to let their kids use Facebook when they are 13 (the legal limit), but Twitter? Never… There’s a few things about this story which see odd.

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Public notebook

Edge of a riot: Social media, balance and truth in the news

Image: A police line forms toward the end of yesterday's Gaza protest in London (credit: Rich Lewis)

When I was a student in 1994 I was on the front cover of The Indpendent the morning after a riot outside the Houses of Parliament.

The image was of a grimacing, dreadlocked fellow’s grimacing face lunging over the line of police shields.

(No, that wasn’t me…)

The picture spoke a thousand words. It told the whole story. The whole story of a photographer standing the other side of police barricade.

The image looked as if it was taken in the heat of the disturbance. In fact it was a while before anything had happened, when what would become a riot was still a peaceful protest against the Criminal Justice Bill. The man was drunk and on his own. I saw him have a tussle with the cordon of police and – rightly so – being arrested and taken away.

Far from being part of an angry mob there was no one behind him. Well, I was – a few metres back and hence I was in the shot.

Being *in* the protest was a very different experience to being the safer side of the police lines.

After yesterday’s protests in London about Gaza yesterday turned to violence, much of the news coverage is, understandably, about the riot, with few of the images and little of the copy dwelling on the rest of the day of protest. If it bleeds it leads, as they say…

Image: A policeman in riot gear at yesterday's protest (credit: Tyron Francis)

The non-bleeding, peaceful protests get their own coverage in social media. A search for “London protests” filtered by most recent brings images from today’s pro-Israel protests in London, then hundreds of images of yesterday’s March. There are the beginnings of trouble in there (police changing into riot gear as the mood gets uglier, fireworks going off outside the Israeli embassy) and some of the actual violence.

No doubt that in part reflects the priorities of people caught up in the violence (taking part / trying to get away rather than documenting the moment) but perhaps also gives a more proportional balanced view of how the day unfolded. The creativity and passion of the protesters, the diversity of people taking part, the scale of the event are there in the hundreds of photos people have uploaded.

Image: A family on the protest march (credit: Tyron Francis)

The truth is more prosaic, less dramatic, slower than the news cycle. But at a time when churnalism and misinformation is decaying the media’s usefulness as a truthful recorder of events, sometimes social media is where we need to turn for the facts.

: : I went back to the Flickr search as I finished this article and there were many more images of the violence at the end of the day being posted…

There are of course,

For a protester’s-eye view of being on the the march have a look at this:

Gaza protest in London from maryrosecook on Vimeo.

This one follows the news media’s format a little more closely, with the most of it being of the rioting at the end of the day. In big protests like this one, there are often people who are really there with the hop of provoking and tkaing part in trouble, masking their hooliganism as political activism.