Want to hear a joke? Okay, here goes: there’s an escaped convict roaming the streets you probably live on or near, and he’s knifed six people tonight. One of the kids in our year died. I watched it from my window. Better lock your doors.
I couldn’t believe the tweets, comments, Snapchats and statuses before my eyes
I don’t know about you, but personally, I’ve never found making people believe they were in actual jeopardy that amusing. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I thought there was a difference between warning people that something dangerous and ambiguous is going on and giving an in-detail report of a completely faux mass murder, just, you know, for kicks.
When local social media blew up at 11PM on Saturday after the violent domestic incident on Leighton Road, I couldn’t believe the tweets, comments, Snapchats and statuses before my eyes. It’s the sort of situation where you hope that it’s all one big, sick joke, and then you’re furious when it is. Someone’s life genuinely hung in the balance and all some people saw was an opportunity for retweets.
Thornton Hill. Well Street. Springfield Road. Howell Road. Danes Road. As the road names trickled through my Facebook feed, all I could do was picture the faces of friends who live on these streets; friends who might’ve picked the wrong moment to walk home and paid for it with their lives. “A second year has died.” Another image: someone my age, maybe even someone I knew, bled out on the pavement; I felt physically sick.
Desperately hoping that this was all fiction, a hyped-up version of a Corrie plot, I wrote my own status. “If you are in Exeter tonight PLEASE stay indoors and keep your doors locked. If you’re out of your house, find somewhere secure to stay. Reports of stabbings in a densely populated student area. Stay safe.” I felt stupid even as I poked at me screen to post the message, wondering if I was just contributing to this wildly out of hand, but my reasoning was this: if this is really happening, letting people know might just save a life.
SOME OF THE PEOPLE THESE TOXIC STATEMENTS REACHED WERE TRULY VULNERABLE AND WORDS HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO GENUINELY DISTURB INDIVIDUALS
But tweeting and snapping “live updates” that are – pardon my French – complete and utter bullshit is completely inexcusable. It’s fortunate that this hysteria didn’t seriously disturb the police operation to apprehend the dangerous individual at the route of this myth, or our community could have been under an actual, greater threat. Practical danger aside, those responsible for circling these falsehoods have been obscenely petty and cruel. Some of the people these toxic statements reached were truly vulnerable and words have the potential to genuinely disturb individuals. Leave terrifying people with made up stories to the likes of Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock; there is no room for such thoughtless, spiteful and irresponsible behaviour in the real world.