Twitter in a panic over Oxford Circus ‘gunman’

Oxford Circus pedestrian scramble

Rumours of shooter running amok in West End proves to be a case of Chinese whispers

BY Jonathan Harwood LAST UPDATED AT 15:17 ON Wed 19 Jan 2011

A case of Chinese whispers caused panic among the Twitterati in central London's media community on Wednesday as rumours of a gunman running amok in the West End blew up on the social networking site.
 
The story that there was a shooter on the loose spread like wildfire and was initially blamed on an innocent Tweet from an assistant at ASOS fashion magazine that she was attending a "shoot" at Oxford Circus.
 
It was thought that the message was misconstrued, retweeted and generally mangled until panic had spread through the interconnected worlds of fashion, public relations, advertising and the media in the capital - all of which are now populated by hardcore Twitter addicts.
 
A string of Tweets that appeared to reveal the genesis of the panic was posted on the website exquisitetweets.com. It showed an initial message from a user called candicecbailey that read: "Street style shooting in Oxford Circus for ASOS and Diet Coke. Let me know if you're around!!"
 
It was posted at 11.17am. Nine minutes later there appeared to be a panic underway, as evidenced by gpcrc, a PR professional, who echoed the thoughts of many when he asked: "Is there a shooting in Oxford Circus right now???? this is what i'm hearing."
 
However, it later transpired that candicecbailey may not have been to blame, as the Met police confessed that they had been carrying out an exercise in the area.
 
A spokesman for the force said: "There was a hypothetical written scenario about an armed individual in Oxford Street as part of a training exercise, which somehow got into the public domain. This was picked up by the social media as a real event."  
 
That did not make much difference to the employees of PR and advertising agencies in the area, who tweeted that they had been warned to stay indoors on account of the shooter. Soon the term Oxford Circus was trending on the microblogging website.
 
By noon the panic was starting to dissipate, thanks in part to the fact that the news media had failed to respond to the story unfolding on real time on Twitter. It was left to the likes of td_ward to calm everyone down. He pointed out: "If there has been a shooting at Oxford Circus rolling 24-hour BREAKING NOOZ is failing massively by not mentioning it."
 
Panic over, the term Oxford Circus remained a trending topic on the website as users dissected the morning's events. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.