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Twitter detects riots faster than police, study says

The social media service can pick up on crime more than an hour faster than the police do via reports, according to researchers at Cardiff University.

Twitter is faster than the police in detecting crime, says researchers from Cardiff University.
Hoch Zwei/Corbis via Getty Images

Social media could help police maintain peace and order.

Twitter can identify riots and other violent activities minutes or even over an hour before the police are notified, according to a study released Tuesday by Cardiff University.

Researchers at Cardiff analyzed 1.6 million tweets relevant to the 2011 London riots. In the town of Enfield, police received reports of disorder an hour and 23 minutes after computer systems could have picked up the same information from Twitter, according to the study.

"In this research, we show that online social media are becoming the go-to place to report observations of everyday occurrences -- including social disorder and terrestrial criminal activity," said co-author of the study Pete Burnap.  

He added that, while the study demonstrates that new technologies can be used to support "more established policing methods," social media will never replace traditional resources.  

Law enforcement agencies have increasingly made use of social media in crime-fighting efforts. In 2013, for instance, police turned to social media and called for the public to submit information about the Boston Marathon bombing to aid in investigation. In May of this year, Thailand's Immigration Bureau received a tip from the Line messaging app, which led to the arrest of two Vietnamese citizens suspected of overstaying their visas. Last week in New Hampshire, a video posted to Facebook by the police drew "dozens of tips" that helped identify a suspect in a crime.

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