The first tweets started coming in at 12.14pm. Within 5 minutes we were looking at photos from the scene and details of a man with gas canisters strapped to him were starting to emerge. Stephen Hull, Huffington Post UK Executive Editor, was one of those live tweeting and by 1pm he had posted a YouTube video – an interview with Abby Baafi, the member of staff that was the intended target of the attack.
It was 12:58 by the time @bbcnewsuk posted their first tweet; “Met Police says part of Tottenham Court Road cordoned off as man throws objects from 5th floor of office. Details soon”. Underneath were two apt comments; “Way ahead of you” and “Why is this not on the BBC news channel?”
This is just the latest of many stories that has been broken on social media. Remember the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s complex was inadvertently reported by a neighbour complaining about the noise! Because of this, people are increasingly turning to Facebook and Twitter as a news source.
One thing worth considering is whether this culture of instant news comes at the expense of quality news. As Friday’s story unfolded, there was confusion about whether the man had a bomb, a flamethrower, or gas canisters and a blow torch. A reminder that social networks are not necessarily a reliable or accurate source.