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Strategic analysis
The Oxford Circus Twitter Frenzy That Never Happened

Written by on January 19, 2011

Did you hear about the gunmen running around Oxford Circus in London today? And that people were asked to stay indoors, and some thinking it was a terrorist incident?

No? Well, don't worry because it never happened. It only happened on Twitter, where a lot of people were tweeting about it. It was a case of several layers of misinformation.

So how did it start? Well, if you go over to Exquisite Tweets, they will tell you that it all started with this post from ASOS, promoting a fashion shoot that was about to take place.

Which Exquisite Tweets then claims to have been followed by a long string of people misinterpreting what it was really about (fascination reading).

Note: This is only a very small sample of many thousands of tweets that was actually posted to Twitter.

Much of this was obviously based on misinformation. Nevertheless, some even tried to do it on purpose. The employee from an advertising agency apparently thought it would be fun to move this into the fantasy world.

First she tweeted that she had been told to stay indoors. Later she tweeted to a friend that her colleagues had told her not to post another tweet saying "five people had been shot".

...or just look at tweets like this one.

It then turned out that the ASOS tweet, wasn't the cause of this at all. The Metropolitan Police were conducting a training exercise in the area. The information about the misinformation, was misinformed too... hmmm...

Citizen reporting

Many people point to this as an example of that you cannot trust citizen reporting, and how traditional media did a great of reporting the real facts. E.g. Tom Rayner, Home Affairs Producer for Sky News, did a great job investigating and debunking the story - both on Twitter and in a subsequent article.

What they fail to tell you, is that people themselves are even better at correcting the mistake. If you go to Twitter Search right now, and search for "Oxford Circus", you will find that people are in a frenzy to correct the misinformation.

People are currently doing everything they can to tell their friends that they have nothing to worry about, and that it wasn't real. That is the actual citizen reporting. People might mistakes, but they are quick to correct them too.

We see the same thing every time a celebrity is reported dead on Twitter. There is a short burst of "OH-MY-GOOD he is dead!", followed by an even longer period of "Not true, just a hoax by some idiot".

It is a stream... It sorts out its own mess.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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