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Panic on Twitter – a Tweet too far?

February 2, 2011

Twitter – a useful tool for info gathering in a world of rolling news, or a dangerous tool with high risk of spreading panic?
As a journalist I trawl through twitter in a bid to get under-the-radar stories, but there’s always the danger of picking up absolute bullsh!t.
For instance – a couple weeks ago the twittersphere was rife with rumours of a shooting on Oxford Street , sparking a major security alert. Shoppers and office workers were forced to stay indoors as the reports were re-tweeted across the capital.

In actuality the entire thing was a fake – not a malicious hoax, but rather the combination of a leaked police training email and a tweet about an ASOS and Diet Coke photo-shoot in Oxford Street.

After @candicebailey tweeted “Street style shooting in Oxford Circus for ASOS and Diet Coke. Let me know if you’re around!!” Twitter users managed retweeted, spreading the rumour across the capital within 10 minutes.

“Apparently theres a shooting at Oxford Circus, gunmen on the move. We’ve been told to stay in,” said @helenium, while @katyraby said: “been told to stay in the office as there is a shooting in Oxford Circus… the cirens have gone past so is it true…?”

After it emerged that it was a false alarm, the Met police apologised, and Twitter critics said that it highlighted the problems with social networking sites.

“This shows one of the inherent dangers of Twitter,” said Stuart Miles of technology website Pocket Lint

This extraordinary event brings social media issues to light – although Twitter is a brillant tool for acquiring information, as users have pretty much free reign over what is posted and re-posted (excluding the unfortunate Paul Chambers, who jokingly threatened to blowing up an airport and ended up being convicted), the danger is that anything can be posted.

There is an old saying – never believe what you read in the papers. Surely the same – and more – can be said of Twitter?

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