Did you know that the word “gullible” doesn’t actually appear in the OED?

A lot of people I know spend a lot of time poking holes in tabloid stories. It’s fun hobby for all the family. The tabloids are so bad at checking facts that it’s usually easy to find the basic flaws in things that they print. The internet makes it so easy to check facts that there’s no excuse not to do it. Oh, sure there’s a lot of nonsense out there too but it’s usually pretty simple to separate the facts from the nonsense.

Which is why it’s disappointing when people just don’t bother.

This image was all over Twitter and Facebook when I woke up this morning. It’s a great image. The idea of a sporting hero like Bradley Wiggins having a go at Piers Morgan like that is brilliant. It would be fantastic if it was true.

It’s not though.

And it’s easy enough to find out what actually happened. Both men have public Twitter feeds, it’s just a case of searching back to find the tweets in question. It took me a couple of minutes to find this exchange (it’s from a week ago).

And yes, I was very disappointed @bradwiggins didn’t sing the anthem either. Show some respect to our Monarch please!

— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) August 2, 2012

.@piersmorgan I was disappointed when you didn’t go to jail for insider dealing or phone hacking, but you know, each to his own @bradwiggins

— Colm Quinn (@mrcolmquinn) August 2, 2012

See that. The reply isn’t from @bradwiggins at all, it’s from @mrcolmquinn. And he wasn’t even pretending to be Bradley Wiggins or anything nefarious like that. He just included @bradwiggins’ name in the tweet so that Wiggins would see what was going on.

I’m not sure what happened after that. I think that for almost a week nothing much happened. At some point those two tweets were turned into the image above. I don’t who created the image or why they did it. I don’t even know whether they misread the tweets and genuinely thought that the reply came from Wiggins or whether they were trying to cause trouble.

I do know that overnight last night people started to share the image on Facebook and Twitter. And that pretty much everyone who shared it didn’t bother to do the two minutes of research it would take to find out what really happened.

The reply was a good one. Morgan certainly deserved it for being such an idiot about the national anthem. And I’m glad that it got a wider audience. I just wish that people weren’t taken in so easily when they see something that they want to be true.

The next time you go to share something like this with your friends, why not pause a couple of minutes and find out whether or not it’s actually true. Prove that you’re better than a tabloid journalist.

Oh, by the way, it’s not true about the word “gullible” either.

social media

The Power of Social Media

In the future, we may well look back on the past week and describe it as the week that the power of social media became apparent to pretty much everyone in the UK. This week social networks have allowed the powers of light to win three victories over the powers of darkness.

It started on Monday with this tweet from Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger.

Now Guardian prevented from reporting parliament for unreportable reasons. Did John Wilkes live in vain?

The story that he linked to explained that the Guardian had been prevented from reporting on a written question that had been published in the list of the upcoming week’s business in House of Commons. The paper was prevented from publishing the question or any information that might identify the question. They couldn’t even tell us why this draconian measure had been put in place. As the article put it:

Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

All they could tell us was that the legal firm Carter-Ruck were involved in the case.

By Tuesday morning both Twitter and the blogosphere were awash with discussion of this issue. People soon identified a likely candidate for the question that was causing the problems and by lunchtime it was common knowledge that the question was about the company Trafigura and their part in the 2006 dumping of toxic waste off the coast of the Ivory Coast. The court hearing about the injunction was set for 2pm but before the parties got into court, Trafigura and Carter-Ruck evidently saw the futility of the situation and Rusbridger tweeted:

Victory! #CarterRuck caves-in. No #Guardian court hearing. Media can now report Paul Farrelly’s PQ about #Trafigura. More soon on Guardian..

Fifteen minutes later,  the full story was on the Guardian web site. It seems likely to me that Carter-Ruck would not have seen their position as so completely untenable had it not been for the way that the information they were trying to censor had spread around social networks.

On Friday, the Daily Mail published an article by Jan Moir entitled “Why There Was Nothing ‘Natural’ About Stephen Gately’s Death”. Moir used the article to spout all sorts of homophobic bile and to somehow reach the conclusion that Gately’s death proved that same-sex civil unions should be banned. It was gratifying to see how quickly the comments on the article turned against Moir and once again one topic dominated Twitter all day. A Facebook group appeared containing the eminently sensible advice to contact the companies whose adverts had appeared beside the article and ask them to complain to the Mail.

During the afternoon, the online article was renamed to “A Strange, Lonely and Troubling Death” (although the original, more strident, title remained in teasers elsewhere on the site). At about the same time all of the adverts disappeared from the page containing the article. Moir issued a statement trying to defuse the situation, but she was so far from understanding what was going on that she only made matters worse. She accused her tormentors of being an “orchestrated internet campaign”. The Facebook group was the closest that anyone came to orchestration. Everything else was just the genuine anger of people who couldn’t believe what they were reading and passed the link on to their friends.

The article is still on the Mail site and there’s no sign of an apology from Moir or a statement from the Mail. But the Mail took the unusual step of removing the adverts from the article, so the amount of discussion on Twitter and other social networks certainly had an effect. And the article currently has over a thousand comments from readers – the vast majority of which are uncomplimentary. It will be interesting to see if this effects the Mail’s attitude to Twitter in the future. To date their articles on Twitter have been largely disparaging – and they often show total confusion over how Twitter actually works. Perhaps now they’ll have to get to grips with it a little more.

The third story I wanted to share also broke on Friday, which means that it rather suffered from being eclipsed by the Moir story. On Thursday blogger Jonathan Macdonald filmed a London Underground guard being incredibly rude to a passenger. The link to his blog entry on this incident followed Moir’s story around Twitter. It reached Boris Johnson who tweeted:

Appalled by the video. Have asked TfL to investigate urgently. Abuse by passengers or staff is never acceptable.

This story made many of mainstream media outlets that evening – running the story that the guard in question had been suspended pending an investigation. I was going to write something about how social media helped to spread this story, but I see that Jonathan Macdonald has beaten me to it.

So there you have it. Three stories in the same week all of which were taken in unexpected directions by the power of Twitter and other social networks. Hopefully Carter-Ruck, the Daily Mail and the tube guard will all think twice before they’re next tempted by such anti-social behaviour (although, there’s already evidence that Carter-Ruck haven’t learned their lesson).

Where does it go from here?

p.s. If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m davorg.


Support From The Internet

I’m currently in Lisbon for YAPC Europe. I very nearly didn’t make it. I flew out on Friday and on Friday morning, about three hours before I was supposed to leave the house, I discovered that my passport was missing.

I realise, of course, that looking for your passport on the day that you are planning to travel is a rather stupid way to organise your life. But that’s not what I did. I made sure that I knew where my passport was two weeks before that. Except it turns out that wasn’t my current passport. That was an old expired passport which, for reasons too boring to go into, hasn’t had the corner cut off in the way that expired passports are supposed to.

Just before 9am, I twittered my predicament.

Hmmm… I appear to be having some slight difficulty tracking down my passport *FX: Mild panic*

An hour and a half later, I still sound calm (almost joking), but internally the panic was rising.

If I was a passport, where would I be hiding?

At that point I think that some of my Twitter followers realised that I was serious and started to send helpful suggestions.

@davorg in the cupboard where the cereals are [@davecampbell]

@davorg Old suit or jacket pockets? Maybe in a suitcase? [@OvidPerl]

@davorg Even reading that has me moving to check that mine is where I think it is. Hope it doesn’t stay hidden for long! [@keiosu]

@davorg I found mine hiding under a stack of dirty dishes. [@__Abigail__]

@davorg sock drawer at ours usually [@gellyfish]

Every time I went back to Twitter, there were three or four new encouraging messages.

@davorg odds are you’ve packed it already [@SeanClarke]

@davorg My passport is in my dressing-gown pocket, but I suppose that’s unlikely to help you. [@robinhouston]

@davorg sock drawer? bedside table? [@davehodg]

@davorg I remember a Perlmonks user finding his passport in a slipper [@larsen]

@davorg When did you last use your passport? Is it tucked in the carry-on bag you were using? Filing cabinet? Safe? [@rozallin]

@davorg buried in the middle of a pile of filing/paperwork .. or is that just my wifey that does that? [@chiselwright]

@davorg The trousers you were wearing when you last entered the country? [@theorbtwo]

A lot of the suggestions weren’t particularly helpful, but by about 11am the support I was getting from Twitter was about the only thing that was keeping me sane. My stress is starting to show in typos.

Thanks for all
the advice. The passport remains elusive, but I’m sure I@m getting
closer. And I don’t need to leave for an hour or so :-/

The advice kept on coming.

@davorg Drawer. Bedside table? [@antoniojl]

@davorg If I was a passport I would hide in a suitcase, ready to go. [@anniemaggiemay]

And then it started to take a different tack.

@davorg if we had id cards, you wouldn’t need a passport :> [@pfig]

@davorg You’re an EU citizen. Showing your ID isn’t enough? My girlfriend says she can travel to Portugal on her French ID. [@OvidPerl]

@davorg you don’t need passport to come to Portugal! I believe you are EU citizen :) [@braceta]

Unfortunately, I’d already eliminated that option.

Phoned Passport Agency and BA to see if there is any chance of travelling without it. Of course not.

Then, at 12:33:

Found it. It was in the scanner!!!

One day perhaps I’ll find time to explain exactly why it was in the scanner. But for now I’ll just say that I only found it because I was looking in random places that I knew it couldn’t possibly be.

My Twitter followers were as happy as I was.

@davorg Hooray! [@mrvaidya]

@davorg heh and yay! [@chiselwright]

@davorg Of course! Bloody identity thieves! [@antoniojl]

Of course, the drama wasn’t completely over. I still had to get to the airport in time for my plane. At 12:59, I wrote:

Inna taxi to LHR. Hurrah! Excitment not over yet. Might not get there in time.

Still more encouragement from Twitter.

@davorg i fel the sonic boom as you whizzed past :) [@rjw1]

I was too busy to tweet for a while, but finally at 14:35 I found time to write:

Made it. Sitting in departure lounge waiting to board. Thanks for all your help. Hope you all enjoyed the drama.

And I think everyone was as relieved as I was.

@davorg – just happy you’re on the way safely. [@unixdaemon]

@davorg woo hoo – well done :) [@davecampbell]

@davorg Awesome! See you in Portugal on Sunday :) [@OvidPerl]

@davorg The HP techies here in the Bracknell office have been enthralled by yr mini soap opera. Glad you made it :-) [@edwenn]

@davorg Yay! Well done! [@antoniojl]

glad that @davorg found his passport in time. [@maokt]

@davorg Well done, and thanks for the entertainment! [@robinhouston]

@davorg w00t! U made it. Should have started a sweepstake in the office :) [@cyberdees]

My Twitter statuses are also fed through to my Facebook page. So friends were commenting there too. And I’m really grateful for all of the comments that I got from both places. It would have been really easy to have given up and cancelled the trip, but knowing that there were all these people out there rooting for me gave me the incentive to keep going.

I can categorically state that in this instance both Twitter and Facebook were wonderful systems.

Thanks to everyone who commented.