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Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Twitter, The Fashion Show, The Police And UK Film - A Cautionary Tale

We all know Twitter is addictive, that's no secret. We also know that rumour and hearsay spread across it like wildfire. And we know that, at times, this can be dangerous. 

Today London went mental over reports of a brutal shooting on Oxford Street. Nobody knows exactly where it came from originally, but the rumour was passed about so quickly that the police became involved and people began frantically contacting loved ones to warn them of the danger. As it turns out - as far as we know, anyway - there was no shooting. There was no gunman. There was no 'police operation'. Instead numerous other explanations surfaced. Some can be seen as an acceptable misunderstanding, others as sheer irresponsibility, others still as extreme stupidity and a failure to join the dots to form the most basic sequence of events. At first it was thought to be a sick joke, but then the following emerged.

One explanation is that a staffer at an advertising agency tweeted that her fashion team were currently "on a shoot in Oxford Circus" which was sponsored by Diet Coke, among others. It seems she sees herself as responsible for the drama. She's not. The tweet she sent appeared about 10 minutes later than the Oxford Street rumours began... It hasn't stopped the nastier, more reactionary folk on Twitter from sending her messages of abuse blaming her ignorance for the fuss.

Another explanation is that the police were taking part in a "routine training exercise" nearby and that "maybe the rumour originated here", although that also is unlikely, since just half an hour before an official statement from the MET informed the public that there were no official reports of shots fired, nothing to see here!

Yet another explanation is that a rather dim office worker in the surrounding area passed on the contents of an email, received by his company from UK Film stating that "if possible, could staff remain indoors for the next hour or two as there is a team shooting just outside the building - police on site to control crowds" - clearly speaking of a film crew using the area as a location (rumoured to be a music video shoot, now). This was instantly interpreted by the worker as an urgent plea to "save yourselves from a mad gunman"... 

He tweeted immediately that there had been a shooting on Oxford Street and the police were on site to make sure nobody else got hurt! This was subsequently RT'd and shaken up into a bag of nonsense, which was then also RT'd. Each of these explanations were passed about online and have ended up causing much panic and more than a little wasted police time. It is almost amusing in hindsight, but a clear indication that unsubstantiated rumour can cause panic. I'm sure we've not heard the end of this story yet; I'm not convinced there isn't more to the "routine training exercise" the armed police apparently feel the need to carry out on one of London's busiest streets... Secret operation? Probably not. But that's the most exciting explanation. Not that such a situation can tastefully be called "exciting".

One thing's for sure, though: there are no Unicorns shitting Flumps... That one was a joke.