Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London Riots: Twitter goes from 'best place for breaking news to best place for breaking bullshit'

Online video journalist Adam Westbrook (pictured) posts on his blog today about the confusion caused by inaccurate reports on Twitter of rioting in the area of London in which he lives.

Adam also says he retweeted images said to be from Liverpool that in fact were from London. He concludes the use of Twitter is "messy" and warns that non-journalists are less likely to verify sources of information on social media.

Adam writes: "I live in Balham in South West London, where there was some looting (I saw, photographed and shared images of T-Mobile and a Carphone Warehouse which had been smashed in around 1030 pm) – but relatively minor. That didn’t stop the #balham hashtag becoming a regular stream of all of the above. People reported the big supermarket had been looted (it hadn’t); there were claims of petrol bombs at the Tesco garage (there were none).

"As one local tweeter, @DoktorWatson put it:

In one night, Twitter has gone from the best place for breaking news to the best place for breaking bullshit. #balham tag especially

"Such was the confusion, several local tweeters felt compelled to walk the streets to just find out the truth, potentially putting themselves at risk.

"Media became a problem. Around 1am, I lazily retweeted footage which I thought showed police clashing with thugs in Liverpool. Quick clarification came that the footage came from London, not Liverpool, and the Youtube uploader was regularly changing the title of the video.

"Trying, instead, to focus on the surprising stories, I congratulated a local tweeter who was cleverly noting the licence plate numbers of cars turning up to loot from shops outside her house. I was criticised for drawing attention to her profile which had a clear picture of her face on it (but, of course, she posted the tweet in the first place).

"So to sum up…it’s messy.

"On the plus side, I do think real-time web’s ability to self correct is extraordinary. My blunderous retweet was corrected within five minutes. If you don’t mind taking stern words from other users, it’s a rock solid facet to the platform.

"However, Twitter being used by journalists, who (hopefully!) question sources and try to verify, is one thing. But non-journalists aren’t necessarily as skeptical of information. A rumour to a journalist could be read as fact by someone else, especially people who are scared."

Adam adds: "I still stand by the argument that Twitter is not being used to organise or incite violence. But now I wonder whether exaggerating violence in one place, or spreading rumours about violence in another (as innocent/naive as it is) could potentially encourage those who do want to cause damage?"

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