NBC 4′s @RealTimeLARiots a Clever Use of Social Media or Confusing Social Noise?

May 1st, 2012 by

A few years back I posted about a modern day War of the Worlds that I feared would break out on Twitter.  In October 2009, California was holding a statewide earthquake drill and the Orange County Register was considering running simulated tweets during the event.  The proposed tweets would coincide with the event and would report as though a magnitude 7.8 earthquake had hit the region.  At the time I wrote how it was a clever idea, but it came with risks.  What would happen if someone outside of the loop mistook the tweet for something real?  What sort of paranoia would it create?  The Register never followed through with the tweets, but I have been observing a similar reaction nearly three years later.

“April 26, 1992. There was a riot on the streets tell me where were you?” ― Sublime

Yesterday I stumbled upon this tweet in my Twitter stream:

At the time I saw the tweet I had no idea what @RealTimeLARiots was. All I saw was the words “National Guard officially deployed. #LARiots” and as a Southern California resident who has witnessed a number of riots in Los Angeles both big and small I was concerned.

But before overreacting, I did my due diligence to click through and figure out what all the fuss was about.  In just a few clicks I discovered that @RealTimeLARiots was nothing more than livetweeting of the Los Angeles riots as they happened back in 1992.  I was instantly taken back to my modern day War of the Worlds post and realized that I had almost fallen victim to the exact sort of thing I mentioned back then.

I tweeted my concern and actually found out from NBC 4′s John Cádiz Klemack that another local station had actually called to confirm the report:

But funny as it may seem, I was almost duped into believing the city of Los Angeles was in the midst of a riot, and I wouldn’t be the last to think so.

As many of you know today was May Day and to coordinate with the “Workers Holiday” Occupy protesters were out in force to demonstrate across the U.S. and more specifically in Los Angeles.  As the day unfolded Twitter and news outlets posted about the protest and various police confrontations.  But things got tricky when Twitter users following the events began seeing the current day occurrences collide with the past:

 

 

The above are just a small sampling of the kind of tweets that have been posted about the overlap and confusion caused by the @RealTimeLARiots account and the current events unfolding in Los Angeles, but is @RealTimeLARiots a bad thing?

If you search for @RealTimeLARiots on Twitter you’ll discover a mix bag of reactions to the account.  Many who were too young to experience the riots first hand have been in awe watching the tweets unfold.  Others have commented on how this is one of the most innovative uses of Twitter to date, but at what cost?

@RealTimeLARiots is not the first of its kinda.  Most recently the History Channel ran a real-time Titanic account to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  There is also a popular RealTimeWWII account which is “livetweeting the 2nd World War, as it happens on this date & time in 1940, & for 6 years to come.”  But what sets @RealTimeLARiots apart in my opinion is how it is being tweeted and reported in a way that makes it feel more realistic or actual accounts.  Using #BREAKING hash tags and various mentions these appear much more real and this is most likely why they have become so confusing for many.

It’s a unique effort that I think is both risky, as well as innovative.  For those who are too young to remember it, or never experienced it, it is an education experience.  For those who lived through it, its an opportunity to reflect and look back at those terrifying moments.  For others, its just one more form of online entertainment.  But ultimately it does come at a risk.  Twitter allows information to spread rapidly and all it takes is one group of people to miss the backstory to spread panic among users.  Think of all the dead celebrity rumors that have spread like wildfire on Twitter?  Now apply that to a crisis or emergency and things could get a little rocky.

What are your thoughts on the Real Time LA Riots account?  Is it an innovative use of social media, or is NBC 4 going too far as a news outlet?

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