Twitter has transformed people’s response to crimes and how they engage with authorities like the police. Never was the changing nature of communication clearer than after the vicious attack on Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Twitter became a first port of call for many eye witnesses, while the perpetrators actively goaded onlookers into sharing evidence of their criminal acts on the internet.

The @MetPoliceUK paper compiles almost 20,000 tweets that included the tag @MetPoliceUK from the week of the Woolwich attack. In-depth analysis breaks down what information people were sharing online, when they shared it and its value as a source of information. It finds that while there is plenty of spam and other useless information swirling around the social network, many people do use it to provide useful information, such as reporting a crime or sending evidence.

The paper argues that this new medium creates opportunities and challenges for policing. Its recommends that authorities should harness the power of social media intelligence – or SOCMINT – through establishing a centralised hub and specialists in each constabulary, to ensure they are able to interpret and respond to messages received. This would provide another tool in their vital job of reassuring the public and helping to keep them safe.