The Boy Who Tweeted Wolf | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

The Boy Who Tweeted Wolf

Comment Editor Alex Cirant-Taljaard argues that more needs to be done to stop the spread of misinformation on Twitter

In the post-9/11 world, it seems like all we do is wait for the next atrocity to be committed.

A recent terror attack in Bir Al-Abd, Egypt was met less with shock, and more with a sense that this is business as usual. Admittedly, a lot of western news outlets elected to largely ignore the attack, focusing instead on the tweets of 2009 X Factor runner-up Olly Murs. Murs, while shopping in Oxford Circus, tweeted that he had heard gunshots, and that everybody should immediately evacuate. As it turned out, there was no terror attack, and Murs has since been ridiculed on social media and scolded by many for whipping up a frenzy. But Murs shouldn’t be singled out - this is a systemic problem in British news media, perpetuated by the mob mentality of sites like Twitter.

Twitter has recently become one of, if not the most, toxic place on the internet. It’s where alt-right fascists  spew hatred and people’s lives are torn apart because they did something stupid in 2006. It has become a haven of mean spirited comments and public shaming. I am by no means counting myself as above the toxicity - I’m sure a search through some of my older tweets would unearth my involvement in a few public lynchings. The main problem with Twitter being such an awful place is that it’s also where many get news and information from, meaning facts are often dangerously skewed and distorted.

It has become a haven of mean spirited comments and public shaming

If Murs hadn’t been able to instantly broadcast his panic to his nearly 8 million followers, and if Murs’ fans hadn’t retweeted him without contemplating first whether the singer of hits such as ‘Dance With Me Tonight’ is really the best source of information, the transfer of misinformation wouldn’t have escalated to the proportions it did.

However, I very much doubt Murs or any of his fans broadcast this information with malicious intent. Rather, they were scared, as we all would be, and did what they thought was best. Which is why it irks me so much that Piers Morgan, phone-tapper extraordinaire and all around slimeball, is trying to position himself as the voice of moral responsibility. Yes, Morgan is right that as someone with a huge social media following, Murs has a responsibility to make sure he isn’t misleading the public. But since when has Morgan, or any member of the British media elite, had any issue with misleading the public? Morgan’s entire career, the only reason any of us even know who he is, was built on misleading the public.

It’s no surprise that the Daily Mail, a paper that Morgan frequently writes for, reported about the incident at Oxford Circus before they had all the facts. Unlike Murs, however, the Mail’s motivations were about being the first to break the story, regardless of whether or not it would lead to further panic. And they weren’t the only ones perpetuating false information. Over-the-hill racial hatred peddler Tommy Robinson was quick to tweet about the non-incident. You could almost see Robinson licking his lips at the prospect of more innocent lives being taken so he could justify his Islamophobic rhetoric. When he discovered there hadn’t been an attack, Robinson quickly deleted his tweets to save face.

So much of what is posted on Twitter is a knee-jerk reaction

Twitter is useful for a lot of things. I use it mainly to try and get my comedy career off the ground (which so far hasn’t really been working). It also can sometimes be a good source of information, as long as the people tweeting are doing so after carefully checking the facts. Unfortunately, so much of what is posted on Twitter is a knee-jerk reaction. And because these reactions get so much attention, the truth rarely gets a look in - if enough people retweet false information, eventually it becomes true. Until Twitter tightens its policy around the dissemination of false information, this isn’t a problem that's likely to go away. As individuals, the only thing we can do is take what we see online with a pinch of salt. What we shouldn’t do is single poor Olly Murs out for making a mistake. He’s got enough on his plate already having to live with his ever dwindling celebrity.

2nd Year Social Policy and Political Science student, Olympic pole-vaulting hopeful and massive liar (@alexjtaljaard)


6th December 2017 at 9:00 am

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Sven Mandel