The Trouble with Twitter: From Oxford Street to Parliament Square

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Monday, 24th January 2011 by Simon Hilliard

There’s been some rumblings on Twitter this week. Not that there’s often a week that goes by without a Twitter rumbling or two nowadays – such is the modern web.

First up, a confidential Scotland Yard training dossier caused a fuss when it leaked on Twitter, with users believing police in the vicinity of London’s Oxford Street had issued “official warnings” of a gunman terrorising weekday shoppers. The farcical event was fuelled further by Twitter users claiming they could hear sirens on the street (is there a day that goes by when a siren is not heard on one of London’s busiest streets?) and a tweet from one user about a shooting of the photographic, rather than armed, kind.

A good example of why some materials should be kept off Twitter. The social nature of Twitter, one of its greatest attributes, also makes it prone to spreading unfounded information, rumour and fallacies.

With this in mind, the idea of MPs tweeting during debates in the House of Commons raises all manner of concerns. According to an article on telegraph.co.uk, there was some confusion over whether tweeting from Parliament is allowed following a verbal scuffle this week. It turns out, Twitter is not included in the guidelines given to MPs last June that dictate what can and can’t be done during a debate.

While not much can be done to stop the mob mentality type behaviour over the phantom Oxford Street gunman, it seems essential MPs should be clear exactly what tech and social media can and can’t be used within Parliament. While I agree democracy dictates political discussions should not be censored or hidden, information shared by MPs should be used to inform only, and not incite panic or speculation.

The vast majority of companies and organisations using social media for marketing and communications purposes will have a set of guidelines in place to keep employees’ noses clean when posting online. Why, then, are the clever clogs who run the country for a living seemingly lagging behind?

At the very least, someone should tell David Cameron that too many tweets don’t make a…well, you know the rest.

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