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London riots: Twitter Fuels Rumours and Proves Unreliable for Reporting

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Twitter has been instrumental in the breaking of updates from the riots happening in London but it has also helped to over hype and over-exaggerate incidents in the capital.

This is only the most recent example of Twitter being unreliable for news coverage, early this year a photo shoot in Oxford Street, central London, was misreported on the social network as a gunman shooting. Within minutes there were hundred of retweets flying around London about the shooting, causing a widespread panic and wasting the time, money and resources of the MET.

The bosses of media organisations need to start taking Twitter seriously as a news platform. When the Guardian ran the story 'News of the World targeted phone of Sarah Payne's mother' one URL shortener website showed the page received over 50,000 hits and 22% of these hits came from Twitter.

The social network caused greater worry riots were spreading and false images appeared across the whole of the website. Reports protests were organised via tweets have been common but finding any has almost been impossible.

Rumours on the website spread incredibly fast with different areas of the city reportedly suffering at the hands of rioters - many of these proved to be untrue with areas quiet when reporters arrived.

Fake images also caused problems with some users posting images of other riots and scenes of devastation, which have happened elsewhere.

Posting these images and rumours about what is happening on the streets makes it very hard for news outlets to verify what is real and what isn't. This only adds to the problems happening on the streets.

Undoubtedly, the police force would have been checking Twitter for updates as the night progressed as well to try and keep up where the most recent incidents were; the inaccuracies on Twitter not only make this harder for them but also put officers in danger.

If officers are being moved from one place to another to check rumours those left in the areas with real danger may not have the resources to deal with what is in front of them.

The media need to keep up with the speed of news breaking on twitter, they can only do this by employing people to specifically man the social media accounts, it shouldn't be up to the individual journalist to be verifying posts, they should be at the scene providing their own eyewitness reports.

Reporters on the streets of London tweeting from their smart-phones were the most credible source of information for those watching from a distance. They provided the clearest picture of the events. Fewer than 10 reporters I follow on Twitter provided more useful information across a few hours than hundreds and thousands of Tweets from other users.

In the last few weeks even experienced broadcaster Jon Snow was fooled into thinking CNN broadcaster Piers Morgan had resigned over alleged phone hacking claims when a spoof account of a journalist posted the rumour.

The whole culture of news on Twitter has to be examined and this can only happen when there are people paid to do this at media organisations. There has to be paid employees to verify the tweets of people on the ground at ongoing incidents.

News organisations should be looking to harness the power of Twitter users and by doing this they'll help to quash any rumours. If a newspaper can verify a tweet to be genuine there should be no hesitation in them retweeting it to their followers, this is the best way to get a clear picture of what is happening.

A balance needs to be struck between getting the news reported the fastest and the accuracy of what is reported. There is nothing easier than pressing a retweet button and sending a message to followers without checking the facts behind it.

Everyone wants to be first with reporting the news but at the end of the day no-one wants to be wrong.