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This article was published on January 19, 2011

Twitter rumours lead to ‘London gunman’ confusion

Twitter rumours lead to ‘London gunman’ confusion
Martin Bryant
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Martin Bryant

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Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-qualit Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-quality, compelling content for them. He previously served in several roles at TNW, including Editor-in-Chief. He left the company in April 2016 for pastures new.

Today, if you believed certain corners of the Twitterverse, there had been a shooting in central London. As it turned out, it was the latest case of Twitter helping to amplify false information.

“Gun alert in Oxford Circus right now. Is it true?” asked one of the tweets, while many more continued to spread the rumour with talk of a “Gunman on the move” and sounds of shots spreading among concerned tweeters.

In actual fact, explains The Telegraph, the whole thing stemmed from details of a police training exercise in dealing with gunmen somehow ending up being taken as fact and tweeted. London’s Metropolitan Police issued a statement explaining “It would appear that some information about a routine police training exercise being held today has inadvertently got into the public domain. As part of that exercise, participants have been given a hypothetical written scenario which involved an armed incident on Oxford Street.”

The whispers that led to “Oxford Circus” trending on Twitter and a whole heap of worry around the capital today have been compiled into an Exquisite Tweets collection that is well worth reading through. Unfortunately, twisting the truth even further, the initial source of the entire affair is wrongly attributed to a tweet about a fashion shoot. While  it would be hilarious if a tweet about a shooting pictures of models somehow escalated into a warning of gunmen on the loose, it appears that actually the real source tweets that caused the confusion have now been deleted. It caught The Guardian out though. Its Media Monkey blog had to apologise after reporting the series of tweets as accurate, closing with “Looks like it’s Monkey that will be heading back to journalism school for a social media refresher course.”

The whole affair highlights that now we all have the ability to spread news at lightning speed to the world, we should remember that no matter how juicy the nuggets may be – a little fact checking goes a long way. That said, asking “Is a shooting happening?” on Twitter is a form of fact checking, even if it does also help spread the rumour. It’s a catch 22 situation and no mistake. What’s the solution? I wish I knew. Maybe it’s just as simple as “Don’t believe everything that you read”.