James Cridland's blog

A radio futurologist writing about what happens when radio and new platforms collide
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Mapping the riots

Posted on Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 at 10:02 am. #

Ello ello ello - it's the police helicopter

“Wouldn’t it be interesting”, I thought, “if I did a little map of where the riots are?” So, at 6 o’clock or so last night, I started to put this map together. It quickly became clear that the one or two riot hotspots I was expecting were not, quite, how the night would progress.

Hackney was followed by Peckham, Lewisham, and Camberwell – and quickly escalated to many other areas of town. Reports – and rumour – were carried on Twitter in an almost unstoppable flow.

Here’s what I learnt:

Twitter is not a reliable source
I lost count of the amount of times I was told that riots were occurring in Derby or Manchester. They weren’t, yet on Twitter they were being reported as fact, despite the Derbyshire Constabulary and Greater Manchester Police issuing denials on Twitter.

I realised that, in order for this map to be useful, every entry needed to be verified, and verifiable for others too. For every report, I searched Google News, Twitter, and major news sites to try and establish some sort of verification. My criteria was that something had to be reported by an established news organisation (BBC, Sky, local newspapers) or by multiple people on Twitter in different ways.

News media are not reliable either
The BBC for a while were reporting disturbances in Manchester (though, to the best of my knowledge, Sky News didn’t). This sparked a denial from Greater Manchester Police.

The location of disturbances broadcast were frequently wrong. Reports came about “Panasonic store” being looted in “East Ealing” – the store was actually Seba Electronics, which has a Panasonic logo on the front, and it’s in West Ealing, not East.

Many people don’t know what a reliable source is
On the map, I asked people to get in contact with a verifiable source. It’s surprising how many people think that a photograph or a video is verifiable: one compelling video sent to me last night was captioned “riots in Liverpool”, but was actually from Woolwich in London.
Surprising, too, how “a friend told me” was deemed reliable enough to pass on to me (it wasn’t reliable enough for me to post).

It’s curious how few people know how to check whether the news they’re being told is verifiable. Dan Gillmor has some useful principles for media consumers. (Read the book, too – it’s a free download). I discovered it was surprisingly easy to check the veracity of claims being made on Twitter by using the internet to check and cross-reference, rather than blindly retweet.

Later: I thought these notes on using Twitter responsibly would be useful.

This wasn’t possible via automation
Many tweets aren’t geo-tagged, but since I wanted to verify each one, it wasn’t necessary to ingest Twitter data into this map. Instead, it was created simply using the “My Maps” tool in Google Maps. I also wanted to ensure it wasn’t hosted on my server infrastructure, since I was unclear that my server would be able to cope: knowing that Google is fairly rock-solid was useful in ensuring that this would be visible to many people.

A geographical verified map is surprisingly useful
I had emails from a US businessman, in a hotel in London, wondering whether it was safe to go out – he had no idea where the places were on the news.

I’m glad I was able to calm his nerves, and correct some of the misinformation. It was a useful and interesting exercise.


For a bit of levity, courtesy of Danny Baker’s Twitter feed, here’s an important information film.

LATER: you might like a mashup of my riots map with a deprivation index.

33 comments

Dan
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 10:09 am

Your map was also featured on New Zealand’s 3 News this evening.

The Greatest Injury is Fear: London Riots — Goannatree
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 10:45 am

[...] just violence, looting, criminal damage and destruction. (a screenshot of this map – You can read about how James Cridland compiled this map and the care he took to verify his [...]

Anna
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 10:46 am

James,
Great work on the map. It’s helpful to read your methodology on verifying your sources. It’s definitely the best out there! I hope i’ve credited you sufficiently in my post – i’ve also linked to this post giving people information about how you compiled the map.

lena
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 10:48 am

Will you keep updating this throughout the day? I’m only 15 and the riots are really scaring me it’s good to have an idea of where they are. Thank you

Aimee
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 11:33 am

There were some fires and trouble in Medway…apparantly from youths who travelled there from elsewhere.

Panic « MysteryBoxes
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 11:49 am

[...] across this Google map by James Cridland who has mapped verified information on the riots. If you read his blog you’ll see exactly how vigorous that verification process has been. It’s an [...]

MysteryBoxes
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 11:51 am

[...] across this Google map by James Cridland who has mapped verified information on the riots. If you read his blog you’ll see exactly how vigorous that verification process has been. It’s an [...]

Panic? « MysteryBoxes
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 12:11 pm

[...] across this Google map by James Cridland who has mapped verified information on the riots. If you read his blog you’ll see exactly how vigorous that verification process has been. It’s an [...]

phil campbell
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

great work on this mapping. much needed.

Marten Feenstra
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Nice map. However, who says that news channels are reliable?

victoria
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Shop next door to me broken into last night.Computers stolen.Bizarrely I didn’t hear a thing, although saw a car with blue flashing light outside..

victoria
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 1:12 pm

(In Richmond SW London)

Guy Leoanrd
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Any chance you could change the icons colour to suggest a date? Yesterday could be in blue, today/tonight’s (if there are any) events could be red? Might make it easier to distinguish areas affected – right now it looks like everything is still happening.

Brian Butterworth
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Excellent work James. I saw the link last night on the Guardian blog.

Adele
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Good one James! The Guardian said 20 people were arrested in Kilburn High Road, 2 mobile phone shops were smashed up. Hope you and Sally are safe :(

#Londonriots: Social Media und die Krawalle in London :
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

[...] Nutzung von Social Media als Quelle konfrontiert sind. Sein Blogbeitrag ist wirklich lesenswert: “Mapping the riots”. Und seine Karte habe ich jetzt schon auf mehreren Websites eingebunden gesehen, darunter auch [...]

T Tran
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Thanks for the map. Very informative. What happened in Chelsea, please? There is just a date mentioned.

Staffroom Secrets | Blog | London riots: Five ways journalists used online tools
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

[...] on his blog (which is well worth a read), Cridland explains how and why he verified the locations of riots [...]

Lily Banyard-Fox
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Thanks for this, James. Stay safe and carry on.

James
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

London Riots Maps | Suprageography
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

[...] James Crindland has created and is updating a map of verified reports of looting and rioting in London – and elsewhere. [...]

n
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 3:22 pm

sloane square this morning, hugo boss broken into

Google Maps Just One of the Mediums Used to Portray the Violence of the London Riots | Education News | Latest Education and Student News - Young Academic
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 3:41 pm

[...] rather ingeniously created a Google Map that has received more than 25,000 views. He states on his blog how he has been confirming the details and location of all of the riots and adding them to his Map [...]

Los disturbios de Reino Unido se pueden seguir en Google Maps | Periódicos España
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

[...] Enlaces relacionados: – Google Map de los disturbios (http://maps.google.co.uk/maps/ms?msid=207192798388318292131.0004aa01a f6748773e8f7&msa=0&ll=51.523271,-0.068665&spn=0.459699,1.100006) – Blog James Cridland (http://james.cridland.net/blog/mapping-the-riots/) [...]

Brian Butterworth
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

There was a report last night on Newsnight that a store in the Mailbox, where BBC Birmingham are located was ransacked.

Shine P
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Gary F
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 10:10 pm

I loved your map, but the Guardian one is terrible. Horrible to navigate (mousewheel scrolls the whole page up/down!) and is NOT being updated.

Terry Purvis
commenting at August 9th, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Have to say James, this map is the best I’ve seen anywhere. It beats what the BBC and other have by a long chalk. A brilliant piece of work. You’ve also proved what can be achieved with existing tools available to all and a clever mind.

Robin Moore
commenting at August 10th, 2011 at 8:20 am

Great map – really helps to understand the extent of the rioting. I might be from the UK but not from London so seeing the areas on the map helped me to understand the news items better.

A possible extension to your map would be to colour-code (or increase the size of the flames) the types or ferocity of rioting and looting… would be a big feat to do on your own.

A definite extension to this is to socialise the map so that the public can help in verifying disturbances… you would have a voting system to allow for ‘riot sites’ to be validated by 3-10 other people.

Explosión de cólera en Gran Bretaña. El sistema no aprende la lección — La casa de mi tía
commenting at August 10th, 2011 at 9:10 am

Nico Morrison
commenting at August 11th, 2011 at 7:36 am

Your map is much better than The Guardians’, I mean the one at http://futurismic.com/2011/08/10/this-is-london/

Please could you provide updated .kml file(s) to import into Google Earth, results are wonderful. Can one do overlays of the .kml to show how the riots spread?

Got me looking at Google Fusion now for my own site, mapping past travels in India by many travellers over many years.

Well suited this for great visualisations, keep up the good work.

Regards,
Nico Morrison
London/India

abaski33
commenting at August 15th, 2011 at 12:44 pm

You have given me a great idea for a display within my school’s science lab. As all of my students are obsessed with social media , I am therefore constantly trying to intergrate twitter into my lessons.

The processes in which you varified information is a crucial lesson that needs to be passed on! Especially when my students are required to write case studies, which involves the need for evaluating resources and references.

Thankyou!!!!

Shut down social media during future riots? Not the best idea. « cityinterhacktives
commenting at November 8th, 2011 at 9:26 am

[...] whether it’s shop windows being put through, or a fire burning down a department store. So, James Cridland put this map together, which he gathered from live tweets, verified news sources, and his own [...]

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