A young club DJ cycling around urban Bristol on his fixed-wheel bike has quickly emerged as a hero of the riots, after setting up a Twitter feed offering unbiased and accurate information about the disturbances.
Leon Piers, a 21-year-old house DJ, music blogger and producer, set up his Twitter feed @BristolRiots the morning after the city saw looting, attacks on shops, confrontations with police and arson incidents during Monday night.
Supported by several friends around the city, Piers cycled the often hilly streets around the epicentres of the unrest – St Pauls, Stokes Croft, Cabot Circus and Broadmead – on his custom-built bike, covering about 35 miles in under two days and putting out over 200 bulletins and requests for information.
In little over a day, his feed had attracted more than 3,000 followers and applause from the city’s police, councillors and local media. It was cited as further evidence that social media, abused by rioters and their supporters, could have great positive value.
Piers, who moved to the Frenchay area of Bristol a year ago, has promised to tweet only verified and unbiased information about any incidents, and to kill off rumours, “folklore” or speculation.
The city was tense and edgy late into Tuesday night as small groups of youths gathered, the police faced down angry residents and a minibus in St Pauls was set on fire, but any disturbances were smothered by the heavy police presence.
As inaccurate rumours of violence circulated and spooked residents jumped on mythical incidents, he decided that if there was no photograph or verified first person testimony, it would not be blogged.
Apart from insisting on neutrality – he declined Avon and Somerset police requests to retweet its messages– he had a bold threat too.
“There were three or four friends dotted around Bristol who I was using as my most solid sources,” he said. He quickly invited other residents to send in reports. “I was telling people, ‘only send me something if you can send me a picture or if I can talk on the phone’. If they lied to me, I would post their name on Twitter and tell people they were lying about riots.”
That never became necessary. “Everyone has been brilliant,” Piers said.
On his Twitter account biography, he describes his service as “A guy on a bike & A group of friends, dotted around Bristol, bringing you only CONFIRMED riot news & Keeping you updated so you can stay safe!” [sic]
He set up the feed after leaving home on Tuesday to watch the aftermath of Monday’s disturbances, which have not since been repeated, and realised there was no Bristol riots information service or hashtag.
He decided “I might as well catch what’s happening, and chances are I can get people up-to-date, and that’s what I have really been doing, just in the hope of quashing any rumours and just keeping people up-to-date on what’s going on,” he said.
“I really don’t have a strong opinion on what’s happening in any sense,” he said. “I try to keep things as neutral as possible.”
He added: “I’ve been trying to do it in a way that people don’t think I’m coming across as high and mighty, or high on morals. I’m just trying to do something to keep people calm.”
If there are no further disturbances, he plans to keep using the feed to organise and promote events clearing up the city, and as a city blog.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010