POLICE have warned hoaxers not to spread malicious rumours about ‘planned riots’ in the county.

And they say they will pursue and deal with any individuals found to be circulating false rumours or inciting a riot or disorder. Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook have been used by rioters to publicise and incite disorder over the last week.

Dorset Police say they have received a “number” of calls from concerned shopkeepers and residents who have heard about potential riots taking place.

Most of the rumours have been circulating on Twitter and Dorset Police say a number of tweets posted on Tuesday evening reporting damage and disorder have so far turned out to be false.

Supt Charlie Eggar, of Dorset Police, said: “We are aware of various rumours that have been circulating on various social networking sites. We are monitoring community tensions and contingency plans are in place should any disorder occur.

“We are also taking positive steps to pursue any individuals who are found to be maliciously circulating rumours.”

On Tuesday, a 23-year-old Poole man was arrested on suspicion of incitement to riot after detectives received reports that information about a potential planned riot was being sent from an electronic device. He has been released on police bail until September.

A Dorset Police spokesman added there is no specific intelligence to suggest copycat disorder in Dorset.

He added: “Concerned members of the public are reporting rumours they have heard on social networking websites and we are advising them of the current situation and dispelling those malicious rumours and providing reassurance.”

While Twitter has been criticised for aiding rioters, it has also proved helpful to advise people where to go to help clean up the streets and to show their support for the police.

Like many police forces, Dorset Police are turning to their own Twitter feed @dorsetpolice to quickly dispel rumours about trouble.

‘Don’t blame Twitter’ say experts

BOURNEMOUTH University media experts say people should not blame social media such as Twitter for the recent rioters looting Britain’s towns and cities.

Dr Einar Thorsen, a lecturer in journalism and communication with a special interest in new media, said: “It’s quite clear that they are using social media and Blackberry messaging to organise themselves, communicating with large groups to say ‘move to location x or y’, or in terms of avoiding detection from the police.

“But it’s difficult to blame social media or suggest that it’s a problem. In the Arab spring, people were celebrating it. It is allowing people to mobilise against oppressive regimes and certainly changes the power dynamic of uprisings.”

Dr Thorsen added: “The police have been able to access the Blackberry messaging platform. It’s quite extraordinary. There are real privacy concerns there that aren’t being highlighted.

“The police are dipping into as much social media as they can in order to understand how young people are mobilising.”

He warned: “There has been false information circulating on Twitter. You need to be careful with information, how you use it and how you act on it.” Senior journalism lecturer Dan Hogan said: “It’s been useful for rioters, but it’s also been brilliant for the police.

“Some of them have been using it really well. It can keep people informed and calm them down.”