Having a riot with Twitter and Facebook

Last night, due to a broken TV aerial I had an evening of no 24 hour news, but very late I decided to check Facebook. I was very shocked to find news stories of riots that were taking place only a couple of miles away. I was horrified to hear from my Facebook friends that Birmingham and Wolverhampton were victims of these riots, and that Birmingham Children’s Hospital had been attacked.

I went on Twitter to find out more by doing a keyword search for: Birmingham. The tweets were coming in thick and fast, and some confirmed whilst others contradicted what my friends had posted on Facebook (it turns out that Wolverhampton and the Children’s Hospital had not been attacked).

In both instances when evaluating the quality of the information, I looked for links to primary resources. For example my Facebook friend Nikk, actually lives in Birmingham City Centre and so I took his first hand accounts more seriously than my friends who were posting messages along the lines of “I’ve also just heard that (fill in name of place or shop) was also attacked”. I also looked for tweets that linked to photos or video footage of the riots (more looting than riots in reality).

 I’ve been following the same “Birmingham” Twitter search today, and again much of the information is contradictory. My mother was sent home early from work as there were supposed to be riots on her local high street, before travelling she called me. I checked Twitter. A number of people had said that riots were just starting there or just about to start there, whilst at the same time others were stating that this was not the case. The South Birmingham Police tweeted that there was currently no rioting anywhere in south Birmingham. When my mother got home she called to say that several shops had closed early, the burger van man was still doing business and that she couldn’t see any problems. So, it would seem that using official tweeters such as South Birmingham Police tended to give more accurate information than those who had “just heard…”.

From early afternoon, there have been tweets from people saying that the local bus service in no longer entering the City Centre (it did stop running services last night). A quick look at the website of the bus company revealed that they expected all the bus routes to work as normal this evening, but they were working closely with the police and for updates to any changes to their service you could either follow their twitter account or their website. So once again, unofficial tweeters, were inaccurate and it was again best to go the primary source for accurate information.

This all brings me back to a piece of work I was reading yesterday by Andrew Whitworth a lecturer at Manchester University on information obesity*. Whitworth argues that due to Web 2.0 technologies, anybody and everybody can now publish without any editorial controls or proof of expertise. Many people have argued that this is a great thing as it frees information and allows everybody to share ideas and create new ones. Whitworth on the other hand is concerned that many people are unable to tell the difference between good and low quality information, and so they are becoming obese on a bad diet of too much poor quality information which is not good for society. Today is a fine example of fear that has been spread throughout my community by a lack of editorial controls.

I think the events of the last 24 hours are a clear sign that we need to teach our young people how to evaluate information and how to use it appropriately in this modern age (the tweets imply that many just believe, repeat and then spread anything they read).

There has been another, useful blog entry on this topic that provides full examples, and I plan to use it in my IL teaching next year: http://hedykorbee.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/tough-to-separate-truth-from-fiction-on-twitter-about-birmingham-disorder-riot/

Post by: Lisa Anderson

* A Whitworth (2011) ‘Information Literacy and noopolitics’ in “Information Literacy: Infiltrating the agenda, challenging minds”.

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One Response to Having a riot with Twitter and Facebook

  1. Pingback: The Three Rs: Reading, wRiting and Rioting | Walk You Home

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