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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Eastleigh explosion - are twitter/facebook users good journalists?

Last night (Monday 14 Feb 2011) there was a a loud bang around the Eastleigh/Chandlers Ford area of Hampshire at around 2230. I initially heard about this through friend feeds on facebook and twitter since I hadn't heard it first hand, and naturally went looking for more info.

First was to switch on TV and radio - nothing on BBC News 24, Sky News, Capital FM or Wave 105. Then check the BBC and local paper news sites. Nothing. So now to look on twitter. Lots of reports of hearing a bang, various people declaring "Bomb scare in Eastleigh" and lots of "I've heard that ...". Very few actual people anywhere near the source of the event with any facts other than hearing helicopters above. I tried posting only things that appeared to have been first hand as opposed to just stuff on the grapevine but it can be difficult to tell. @petesimmons1 seemed to be one of the few people posting first hand information from around one suspected scene at Fleming Park, where there was clearly a lot of police activity shortly afterwards. This article went up in the early hours of Tuesday but had no real extra information.

It wasn't until 9am that the local newspaper site and the BBC reported that the Police had no idea what the cause was and were still appealing for information. So at the time of writing we still don't really know what happened, and all reports seem to be just speculation.

It's interesting that twitter (and other social media) is hailed as 'journalism for the masses' and how we can get breaking news out to the public sooner than the news corporations, but in the absence of an official news service to back it up a lot of it ends up as heresay, and it seems that the amount of concrete information presented by 'the masses' was quite low for this event, and that the amount of 'sensationalistic tabloid' sort of reports were quite high, and I suppose that's because stronger, more evocative words seem more worthy of retweeting. In the interests of not propogating such behavior, I'm not going to post any of the suggestions in this article.

Where am I going with this? If you want to be involved in reporting on facts and be helpful, try to avoid 'Someone just said...' type of posts, either your own or retweets. Query the poster, find out how many degrees of separation you are from the facts. Twitter makes that easy. And if you're posting, try and include:

  • Who said it
  • What facts there are
  • Where and when the fact occurred if applicable
  • A hashtag (on twitter) so people can find your posts.

It's not too much to ask is it?

[EDIT: This article has a reasonable proposal for a tagging system that allows identification of true eyewistness reports instead of the heresay etc. which is often associated with hastags during events]

[EDIT 28/7/2011 Kate Bevan's post on twitter hysteria in spreading "news"]


  1. People will regret the day they asked for press to be free. It costs money to fact check appropriately and ad supported press is not exactly free from conflict.

    I'd like the press to go away for a while to prove how valuable they are.. but in I'm happier with the current status quo of harmlessly ignorant people than what would inevitably be dangerous ignorant people if there was no containing press.

    I should blog more :)

  2. I'd agree with that ... in fact I've had a draft blog entry kicking around talking about how I disapprove of the use of plugins like AdBlock which prevent web site owners making money ... although I don't want to talk about that too much yet since I haven't posted it :-)