Oxford Circus Panic – We aren’t getting the hang of Twitter: Opinion

As the clock struck Rush Hour yesterday, the internet seemed to confirm the capital’s worst fears.

Jittery reports claimed that a man had fired gunshots in Oxford Circus tube station in the bustle of Black Friday. Although it later emerged that the panic, and evacuation, was triggered by an “altercation” between two men on a platform, the panic was enough to cause mayhem both online and on the streets.

Although reports of gunshots remained unconfirmed and were later refuted, social media, specifically Twitter, stirred the pot of panic at a lightening quick rate. Most worryingly, it played host to a number of inaccurate accounts from those with large followings. Pop singer and television personality Olly Murs tweeted a string of hysterical statements beginning with “everyone get out of Selfridges now gun shots!!” and Sky News newsreader and presenter Kay Burley announced “man with gun in Oxford Street…”

Whilst popstar Murs’ outburst is embarrassing, Burley probably should have known better. The confirmation of unfounded online reports that could cause panic, is a huge cardinal sin for trained journalists, something repeated by the Mail in their circulation that a van had “ploughed into pedestrians” in Oxford Street yesterday, a report based on a tweet from 10 days prior.

In this case, it is largely a shame that the fantastic on the ground respond by the Metropolitan Police could not have been extended somewhat to the virtual world. Those with large followings should smell the potential foe in online media platforms and exercise increased vigilance in times of crises.

Twitter is undoubtedly a great tool for staying informed and ahead in most walks of life, but in times of alarming incidents which pose a danger to public safety, Twitter is not king. For those that enjoy large platforms of public influence, it is at best foolish, and at worst dangerous, to take the unconfirmed rumour as gospel.

Due to the digital revolution in user generated content, “breaking news” is now a much more loaded and slippery term than it was twenty years ago.

Although those guilty in this case deserve little more than a slapped wrist, we need to move towards a user-wide understanding that, unfortunately, Twitter has the capacity to distort and fabricate in times of potential public danger.