It’s been a busy evening on Twitter. Naturally, I have a search set up for “Kilburn” in my timeline and from late afternoon it seemed that every other message came from someone suggesting that riots were going to kick off in Kilburn.
It became increasingly hard to determine fact from speculation from deliberate fanning of the flames – whether for fun or for more sinister motives.
Finally, I began to get more convincing sounding reports, many from people I know and trust, that said there wasn’t much happening. It became clear that there was a substantial police presence, and that shops were closing… although it was approaching 6pm, so some were closing anyway. Around 6.30pm someone tweeted that all the banks were closed. No kidding.
There began to be more reports of small groups of young men mooching up and down the road, some with masks. Initially skeptical I refrained from retweeting this, but eventually I was convinced. Several people were doing trawls of the entire High Road to see what was happening – after all Kilburn High Road is a mile long – and reporting that there was no actual trouble. Then there were solid reports that police were stopping some peole and shortly after the Guardian’s Simon Rodgers tweeted that 20 people had been arrested in Kilburn.
I’m willing to trust the Guardian, so lets assume this is true. The Guardian’s rolling riot coverage read:
“Kilburn, in north west London, has also seen trouble reports Simon Rodgers. He says there have been 20 arrests near Kilburn High Road. Youths are roaming around the area, Simon says.”
This seemed a fair reflection of the situation, and was clearly chicken feed compared to the serious situation in Hackney, Peckham and Lewisham.
Unfortunately, the Guardian then tweeted this:
Follow LIVE #LondonRiots updates as trouble spreads to #Croydon #Kilburn and #Birmingham http://gu.com/p/3x4he/tw.
Of course this got RTd to death and suddenly perfectly sane people were understandably concerned. Of course the news moved on, nothing at all happened in Kilburn, and the Guardian carried on talking about the serious problems in Croydon and Clapham. Is it too much to expect a follow-up to say that Kilburn was calm? I know the journalists are stretched, so maybe it is too much. This isn’t meant to be a Guardian-bashing post anyway. But it’s indicative of the challenge journalists and responsible tweeters/bloggers have in trying to be up-to-date with events while not falling for seductive sounding “breaking news” tweets. People like to give their false reports authenticity… “my aunt says…” “a colleague rang me to say…”, etc. But it’s fairly easy to weed those out.
Harder to unravel were those messages from people I know who hear something from someone they know and – in a commendable effort to be helpful – ping me to keep me up to speed. With so many people tweeting though, one isolated report without a picture is to be taken with a large pinch of salt. In every single case, further investigation revealed that the reported fact simply wasn’t true. Many were either misunderstandings, or nuance was lost in the brevity of Twitter, or it was the product of over-active imaginations. But each one gets retweeted, especially when it’s written by someone with a lot of followers, before there’s a chance to contradict it and the whole thing starts again.
Part of me wonders whether it’s worth doing this – I’m under no illusion that fighting (with some very able allies – thanks to Julius_Geezer in particular) all the misinformation has any impact on what might happen, but it does seem worthwhile to allay people’s genuine fears.
More importantly, I would much rather be spending an evening trying to counter some misinformation than writing about looting, arson and general thuggery in the neighbourhood. In the parlance of the day, stay classy Kilburn.