Social media or social noise?

Posted on 30/11/2010 by


The last few days have seen some very savvy use of social media as a tool for campaigning in Edinburgh.

Students have been occupying the University’s Appleton Tower building for the last five days to protest against rising tuition fees in England and Wales, and Government cuts more generally throught the UK. They’ve been maintaining an active blog and twitter stream, and even conducting tours of the occupation via skype.

According to one spokesman, they were using social media and google docs spread sheets to help co-ordinate with 12 other occupations in England and Wales – an impressive level of organisation.

Last night they blogged that Nick Clegg was expected to be in Edinburgh, and that there would be a major demonstration as a result. They wrote that they’d had three separate sources confirm the visit – although there was no official confirmation of the story.

This claim was retweeted many times, which may or may not have swelled the number of protesters marching on the Scottish Parliament today.  The protest, though vocal, was fairly small –  perhaps three hundred people. They gathered in Bristo Square before marching on Holyrood.

However, as predicted by a number of journalists ( @severincarrell@beatbloggermike@thistlejohn) the Clegg story wasn’t true. In fact, Clegg was scheduled to appear in the Commons in the afternoon – which he duly did.

Irrespective of how this misinformation got into the social media sphere, what happened once it was there was instructive. Tweets mentioning the visit and protest abounded – whilst ones pointing out that the story was unconfirmed or misleading were retweeted far less often.

Social media was misinforming, rather than informing people.

As someone who thinks that citizen journalism and social media can be a valuable tool for democrac and for adding the voices of ordinary citizens to the media mix, it’s a little annoying when it gets used in this way – but perhaps not surprising.

Hopefully, as we all get more and more used to a media mixed with everything from professional journalists to local bloggers to campaigners, people will get better at deciding which sources to trust and which not to trust, and reward the most reliable bloggers and citizen journos by following their blogs and tweets more often. After-all, it takes a time to build a following online – but it can be lost quite quickly.

This post was originally posted on the Edinbuzz site on Tuesday 30th November.