Following the riots across England this week, Peterborough, like many towns and cities I’ll bet was awash via social media with rumour, suggestion and misinformation about potential disturbances in the city. Here’s how we handled that through our Twitter coverage:
Reporting that nothing is happening in your area/city? ask yourself is that really news.
But I feel there’s a balance to be had here and saying no news is not a valid reason for Tweeting is not always fair. If as an official local news source on Twitter you’re seeing multiple tweets asking/predicting/suggesting there’s rioting or other event not actually taking place, at some point there is a duty to respond (it would be ideal to include all those Tweeters but with a 140 character limit, that’s not always realistic).
At the @PeterboroughET we took the policy of limiting our updates and retweeting local police (who were pretty on the ball with their updates) where possible to add weight to our information. Verification has always been key with Twitter, along with sifting and filtering sources and tip-offs, all part of regular news process, they are just magnified on social networks.
It would have been easy to respond to all those concerned locals individually (plenty of them genuine) and getting directly involved with those seemingly deliberately misinforming regarding potential or imagined riots in our area, that would best be served by a linked rolling story enabling longer coverage, but we took the view initially that publishing anything on our website would be fueling a non-existent fire.
This partly relates to the issue of resource, whether we spent much time on such a non-story, a vital issue especially for stretched local news teams, but mobile/web apps enable social media monitoring and interaction without being necessarily on duty or in the office, enabling news teams to react more quickly to events such as this.
It’s all part of the learning curve of Twitter for news orgs, which becomes more difficult as your following audience grows, but the benefits of being able to quickly inform, collaborate and communicate still outweigh its negatives.