The Social Media Rumour Mill

By Becca Caddy

Last week a series of tweets about a shooting in central London sparked panic among those in the capital even though it later turned out to be a rumour. This is just the latest case of speculations, outlandish claims and general misconceptions spreading like wildfire online…

Last Wednesday Twitter was inundated with speculations about a shooting incident in central London. A flurry of tweets urged people to stay indoors and many who worked in the capital received emails that told them the same.

But, it later turned out that all the rumours just weren’t true. There are various explanations for how the claims may have spiralled out of control, from hoaxes to leaked police documents.

However, it’s been suggested that it could be down to the innocent tweet of ASOS stylist @CandiceCBailey, which has since been removed:

“Street style shooting in Oxford Circus for ASOS and Diet Coke. Let me know if you’re around!!”

To many that read this, it’s quite clear she meant she’d be taking street style photography of Londoners. However, some others clearly got the wrong end of the stick and assumed this meant there was some kind of shooting incident. Some of the related tweets have since been collected together as an Exquisite Tweets list.

But is it a good sign that everyone felt it necessary to warn each other or just another case of a few individuals whipping everyone else into an unnecessary frenzy?

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen social media go awry in recent weeks. BitchBuzz writers Laura Yates and Hannah Mudge both wrote about the strange case of Kenneth Tong who made a series of claims on Twitter, which included his advocacy of “managed anorexia.” No one ever really got to the bottom of whether he was being serious or whether it was indeed a hoax, which he now claims.

Regardless of whether his words were genuine or not, the media and so many others online were quick to attack the Z-list celebrity meaning his offensive words got even more attention. Really everyone should have just ignored him in the same way you’d quickly run past a crazy shouting person in the street.

It also seems that on a weekly basis there are rumours circulating about the death of popular celebrities that are still very much alive, such as Britney Spears, Charlie Sheen, Aaron Carter and Bill Cosby among others.

It’s no surprise that people are quick to accuse social media for these kinds of rumours and over-reactions. However, networks like Twitter and Facebook are really just platforms for people to behave like they always have. Human beings have always gossiped among their friends and families, misheard things, told a lie and this has always and will always be the case.

Social media, and the Internet generally, just amplifies the way we communicate which often means that news, whether right or wrong, is spread much more quickly and effectively than ever before. If you were to start a rumour 50 years ago it would take a lot longer for it to reach the other side of the world but now that can happen in a matter of seconds.

There’s also been a shift in who can be given an authoritative voice. Gone are the days of only journalists gathering news stories and presenting them back to an accepting audience. Now anyone can reach large numbers of people and claim to have their facts right. This can definitely be seen as a positive step as bloggers and citizen journalists now have more credence than ever. However, there’s always going to be someone who has to ruin it for the rest and shout out about a ludicrous diet pill or a fake death to confuse and panic everyone else.

Becca Caddy is a BitchBuzz Tech columnist and freelance writer for Reputation Online, New Media Age’s spin-off publication. You can follow her on Twitter @beccacaddy.

Image via mcook262's Flickr.

Tue, 25 Jan 2011 10:10 (GMT+00)
1 Response

I think this is a double edged sword of sorts. Although Tweeters did reach out and attempt to 'help' one another when rumours of the shooting were fired about Twitter, its only a matter of time before an incident that does actually require assistance occurs, and is ignored due to previous falsities. It feels like another boy who cried wolf Im afraid.

Tue, 25-Jan-2011 11:58 GMT

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