Use of social media to monitor large scale events

The impact of having a 'selfie' with a police officer can change moods

​A study into social media during the NATO summit found overall commentary about the event was negative after an increase in police presence - until officers began posing for selfies.

Computer and social scientists from Cardiff University studied community reactions on Twitter during last September's NATO summit in Newport, Wales, which drew world leaders including US President Barack Obama.

They found there were wide variations in public perceptions of the event, with the key findings revealing the overall commentary on social media about the summit was negative in tone.

The study found an initial increase in police numbers, especially highly visible armed officers, generated a negative public reaction, but this was recovered by many of them posing for selfies with members of the public.

The study can act as an example of how police forces could use social media analytics to carry out a 'live' community impact assessment during large scale events.

Researchers were able to measure public reaction to events surrounding the summit, such as the announcement of local school closures and national media headlines which reported on a 'ring of steel' around the summit.

Part of the work also involved analysing the tone of tweets based on location.

NATO organised events in Cardiff Bay, which included a display of warships and a fly-past involving the RAF's Red Arrows, generated a far more positive public mood compared with the disruption experienced in the centre of Cardiff and Newport.

Using geo-location analytics could allow police to monitor in real-time the mood of crowds in certain areas during large scale events.

The work will be part of the College of Policing What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, which was set up to provide robust and comprehensive evidence to guide decision-making on public spending.
Professor Martin Innes, from Cardiff School of Social Sciences, said:

"A key finding from our work was understanding how social media analytics affords new ways to provide an 'always on' community impact assessment.  The highly localised, positive and negative public sentiment recorded throughout both the build-up and during the event demonstrated a capability to understand public reaction through both space and time.

"In the run up to the summit we saw some strongly negative responses on social media to many of the preparations, including announcements of school closures, the 'no fly' zone, and travel disruption.

"During the event, however, reactions became more positive with the arrival of naval vessels in Cardiff Bay, the welcome of President Obama to Wales, and the fly-past by aircraft from the NATO member countries.

"In some ways, this was reminiscent of the 'Olympic effect' where there was negativity beforehand, but more positivity as the event began."

The software and methods used for the study were able to detect specific incidents including transport disruption and gathering crowds as they were happening.

Professor Alun Preece, from the Cardiff School of Computer Science & Informatics, said:

"As these incidents were being identified, we could direct our team of observers in Newport and Cardiff to obtain accurate information, such as the size of crowds, their mood and where they were going.

"We were able to capture information in a knowledge base that can be employed to answer questions, to help make decisions, and to manage an ongoing situation like the summit in real-time."

The work was carried out by a team at the Universities' Police Science Institute (UPSI), which is a joint venture between South Wales Police and Cardiff University to develop the research evidence base for the art, craft and science of policing.

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