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London riots: Police use Flickr to help catch looters

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After three nights of devastating riots, the law-abiding citizens of London have begun to fight back against the ruinous hoard. While Twitter and Facebook have played massive roles in the clean-up effort, which started in earnest early this morning, social media and a variety of other websites have also become invaluable tools in the hunt for looters, arsonists and vandals.

On the official side, London’s Metropolitan Police have created a Flickr page, entitled “London Disorder – Operation Withern,” which includes the “first of many” CCTV images of rioters suspected of looting, committing violence and other criminal acts. Police hope the public can help identify the alleged criminals and bring them into custody.

“Operation Withern’s priority is to bring to justice those who have committed violent and criminal acts,” says the Flickr page. “As the detailed and thorough investigation progresses we will be issuing photographs of suspects, like those of alleged looters we are releasing today (Tuesday 9 August). These CCTV images are from incidents of looting in Croydon over last night and in Norwood Road SE27 in the early hours of this morning.”

Police ask that anyone with information about the suspected looters contact the Major Investigation Team via telephone (020 8345 4142), or report illegal activity anonymously by calling 0800 555 111.

In addition to special telephone lines, Metropolitan Police also launched the Twitter hashtag #tweetalooter, which they urge citizens to use if they have information about rioters or criminal acts. Twitter users are posting their own photos of looters, the usernames of known looters, as well as incriminating evidence, like screenshots of other Twitter users who have foolishly admitted to stealing good during the riots in online posts.

Police aren’t the only ones setting up websites to help catch looters. A Tumblr blog, dubbed Catch A Looter, has been set up by an anonymous do-gooder. The site includes photos of rioters and looters, links to the Operation Withern Flickr page, and other police contact data. It is not known whether the Tumblog has any official ties to the authorities.

A similar website, LondonRioters.co.uk, has also been set up for similar purposes, and allows visitors to upload their own images of suspected rioters, or identify rioters from already uploaded photos. The website has been consistently down or loading extremely slowly, due to overwhelming traffic to its servers.

If anyone knows of other web resources being used to help restore order in London, let us know in the comments and we’ll update this article with the new information. Check the Guardian‘s riot liveblog to stay up-to-date on the latest news out of London.

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