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Written on August 9, 2011, and categorized as Society.
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Is anyone tracking DISINFOrmation in the #LondonRiots ?

I recorded fake tweets: EDL Attack Whitechapel Mosque, Tanks at Bank (photo from Egypt), and London Zoo Tigers on streets – which image I think came from France.

Is this disinformation coordinated? I doubt it. Is it just misguided “gaming” of Twitter et al by sickos who like to spread panic, or is is part of a more developed and organised strategy?

The past 48 hours makes me realise that we do need some proper citizen journalism in the UK. There is a shortage of “coverage” which goes beyond reacting, where sources are verified and facts checked.

When the networks go crazy with a breaking event, I try to remember to check what I pass on. I can be a bit trigger-happy. I have been guilty of not checking in the past before re-tweeting totally false information. I’m also guilty of deliberate comedy faux news just for fun.

There are always people with disruptive, violent agendas on the streets, and there are also disruptive, violent people online. Blanket media coverage of the “London” Riots, which have spread across Britain to Birmingham and Liverpool, with dozens of smaller disturbances in cities and towns across England, is bringing all sorts of nasties out of the closet.

Today I had a death threat from someone who thought I was on the side of the rioters. If I was a looter, I deserved to be “hunted down& SHOT like a rabid dog”

The guy clearly hadn’t bothered to see who I was, or even glanced at my stream, he just misunderstood a hashtag I had used #anti-curfew, which is a take-our-streets-back decent-citizens’ rallying cry. It means the exact opposite of what he thought it means. When I politely pointed out he hadn’t checked what I meant, he was aggressive, telling me that Britain was burning and demanding that I “get off the fence” and do something for my country. Ah, I thought, Nazi. Told him he was as bad as the rioters and that I would report him. Blocked.

But is that enough? Do we not have a duty to be careful not to stoke the fires we are reporting? Social media is a part of these riots, and the communities’ responses to them. It goes beyond just BBM and SMS into proper social media. Videos, images, audio, news, texts quoted shared and liked and +1’d millions of times over. If you’re online, re-tweeting and commenting, you’re part of the process.

Social media and mainstream media overlaps and criss-crosses, and one of the things I love about social media is that we can call the pro’s on their errors and sometimes biased reporting. I’ve watched a fair bit of that last three days. But when lives are at stake, I think I need to learn from the professionals on this and adopt a more responsible attitude.

Taking part in the frenzy of responses to breaking news is an astonishing development of the web. It really is a kind of “hive mind” at times. It has the potential to be very good, and also very damaging.

I take these social media communications seriously, because they are powerful. The value of information from trusted sources is huge.

In the same way that ten thousand kids can show up at a teenager’s birthday party because of careless use of Facebook and wreck the joint, *disinformation*, fake reports spread maliciously, followed by careless retweets and re-posts and shares and likes and +1s on social networks could easily manifest as a crowd showing up in the centre of town, and wrecking the joint.

A Scots kid was arrested earlier for trying to plan a riot on Facebook. He doesn’t worry me. It’s the clever ones that worry me. The accusation that the EDL were attacking Whitechapel Mosque was appallingly inflammatory, and very well timed. What if that had fanned the flames of interracial violence, of which, for all their greed and wanton vandalism, British riots have so far been free?

If we want to continue to operate freely and effectively as we currently do, then we need to look at ourselves and our sources carefully.

We need to make sure of the quality of what we share, whether we create it ourselves or simply pass it on.

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