Since Walsall Council started it’s interaction with the public on social media, I have, on the whole, been supportive and appreciative of their efforts to forge a way forward in the new media. I’ve criticised them a couple of times when they make ridiculous claims – but on the whole, the civic use of Twatter and Facebook are excellent things for the people of Walsall, to whom timely, prescient updates can be delivered. Sadly, that wasn’t the case on the 9th August 2011.
With the UK in the grip of riot fever, social media was understandably a hotbed for rumours to spread and incubate. For a long time that day, I watched ever more bizarre rumours surface on Twatter and Facebook; Walsall Town Centre was under siege, MacDonald’s had been looted, ASDA and the Police Station had been set on fire. In the light of day these statements are, indeed, ludicrous but people were believing them and vectoring like mad.
The police were fighting hard to counter these rumours, and did a sterling job, as did the Walsall Town management team battling to tell everyone that the town wasn’t locked down or in the grip of looting mobs. WalsallTown has 461 followers. The official Walsall Council account has 3,604 followers. WM Police have upwards of 20,000 followers, but there’s no telling how many of those are in Walsall. It’s clear that the WalsallCouncil account would reach nearly eight times as many folk as Walsall Town. So if you want to reach the most people in Walsall, you’d use the WalsallCouncil account to talk to them, right? Er, no.
Up until about 4pm that afternoon, the main WalsallCouncil twitter account didn’t mention the rumours at all, whilst the guys behind Walsall Town had been plugging away, trying to tell the panicking community that all was indeed well.
Clearly, this was unacceptable. The guys behind WalsallCouncil were not seizing the opportunity to use social media to it’s best effect and quash the harmful myths spreading. Worse, their Facebook page didn’t mention anything, either.
I was concerned about this. Clued-up and clueful regular local tweeters were trying to counteract the hysteria, but having little or no effect. This situation was made all the more bizarre, as the person usually behind social media in Walsall – Dan Slee – was on holiday, and someone else was in charge. Had Dan been here, I’m certain things would have been different, as he wrote a great blog a week about using social media for emergency communications in local government. Ironically, the team he left behind don’t seem to have read it. In desperation, I tweeted:
Soon after, the WalsallCouncil account started addressing the issue. Whilst I welcome the move, it was too late and seems to have been spurred purely by the prompting of myself and other concerned onlookers who could see the rumour mill running unchallenged and in overdrive.
It’s at times like this – as Dan Slee so correctly points out – that Social Media can be used as a tool for good. Shame that those manning the Walsall Council twitter feed yesterday were so clearly asleep at the wheel. We want social media in Walsall used for important stuff like this – not just propaganda and advertising fluff.