Social media’s Manchester role under scrutiny

Fact from fiction: Facebook has begun flagging stories as “questionable”.

Facebook and Twitter played a huge role reporting the Manchester attack and helping victims and their families. But many false rumours were also spread. Is social media a force for good?

“Just heard a huge bang from Manchester Arena?! Seen loads of people screaming and running out from my balcony?!”

With this tweet at 22:40 on May 22nd, Suzy Mitchell became one of the first to report on an event that shook Britain to the core. Soon, other locals also took to Twitter to bring the news to the world. “Now there are loads of sirens,” said Ben Wignall.

What was the bang? Some inside the arena initially speculated that it might have been a balloon bursting next to a speaker. But soon, news spread that the bang was the sound of the most deadly terrorist atrocity on British soil since 2005. “BREAKING: Casualties suspected” soon became 22 confirmed deaths. For those gripped in horror and desperate for updates, Twitter was the place to be.

But there was a darker side to social media that night, as numerous false rumours spread rapidly. False photos of the scene appeared, as did claims that terrorists had posted online warnings in the hours leading up to the attack.

A rumour spread that a gunman had stormed Oldham General Hospital, seven miles from the arena and the destination for many of those injured in the bombing. Users also posted images taken from the internet, pretending that they were of lost friends and family, apparently in a bid to attract retweets. They included images of a 12-year-old girl in Australia, who was in fact safe at school.

The problem is that there is very little to prevent such so-called “trolling” without removing the great advantages of sites like Twitter. It relies on messages being sent instantly, whether they are for good or for ill.

However, social media also bore witness to the best of humanity. Some Mancunians used the hashtag #RoomForManchester to tweet that they would offer a safe place for the night for those fleeing the scene.

A video of a homeless man, Steve Jones, explaining how he helped the injured outside the venue, went viral. Eventually, the co-owner of West Ham United Football Club offered to pay for Jones’s accommodation for six months to “help him on his way”.

Overall, is social media a force for good?

Attention seekers

Definitely a force for good, say some. Social media has become the best way of keeping up with events like that in Manchester. Most of the false rumours are quickly refuted, and by binding human beings closer together, it enables users to reach out and help others far more easily.

No, it brings out the worst in people, reply others. It increases the sense of chaos and confusion that terror attacks bring, which then amplifies the suffering of those desperate for news of their loved ones. The next time a terror attack hits, it would be best if people abstained from social media.

You Decide

  1. Was social media a force for good or a force for ill in the wake of the Manchester bombing?
  2. Do social media sites need to do more to tackle false rumours spreading?

Activities

  1. Class debate: “This house believes social media has too much power.”
  2. Come up with your own social media campaign to help victims and survivors from terrorist attacks.

Some People Say...

“Deliberately spreading false rumours on the internet should be a criminal offence.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know that the rise of Facebook and, in particular, Twitter, has meant that many people are more likely to get their breaking news by refreshing social media than switching on the news, as information can spread quicker and without the delay of moderation. We also know that fake news has become a wider phenomenon, and that social media sites are weighing up how to respond to the mass of misinformation.
What do we not know?
We do not know how much Twitter and Facebook can do to prevent false rumours spreading without completely changing the way the sites work. It is also impossible to quantify how much harm is done by these stories, and to what extent they spread away from the bubble of social media.

Word Watch

Most deadly terrorist atrocity
In 2005, 52 people died after three bombs were detonated on the London Underground, and one on a London bus.
22 confirmed deaths
Images of those who were missing spread rapidly around social media before the names of the victims were confirmed in the subsequent two days.
Mancunians
People from Manchester.
Co-owner of West Ham United
David Sullivan — his son tweeted: “Me and dad want to rent the homeless man in manchester a house for 6 months to help him get on his feet. If anyone can help us get in touch much much appreciated. Such a selfless act needs rewarding. Please tag anyone who can help us.”

Subjects

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