I’m often asked by friends “What is Twitter and what do you use it for?” For me, Twitter is like a gigantic newsfeed where I can tailor the news I receive to focus on the events that directly impact or interest me. It’s different from picking up a paper or watching the bbc news as the feeds are more subjective and depending on how carefully the lists of followers is built, it can reflect views from all ends of the political spectrum.
So, with that in mind, I was interested to note what happened on the nights of the riots. On Tuesday evening Twitter was certainly a great medium for picking up peoples thoughts on the riots and for understanding the latest outbreaks of violence. However, very quickly Twitter rumours started to surface. The ease of retweeting meant that the speed of dissemination was amazing and before long reports of trouble across the Milton Keynes areas was being reported. Over a very short period of time, a sense of unease and even panic was coming out from Twitter around Milton Keynes.
At that point (and mainly due to certain journalists who were keen not to scaremonger) some sort of social order set in and tweeters seemed to passively accept it. In the Milton Keynes case, the local paper (The Citizen) became the focal point for people to report their own sightings in and then for them to consolidate them and provide one source of truth. Through this method, rumours were very quickly squashed and the growing panic died away.
So… what we ended up with on Twitter was the news coming from one source…an excellent service on the night but almost the complete opposite of my definition of why I use Twitter.