What reportedly began as an altercation between two men in a London subway, quickly escalated into a mass panic and human stampede at the Oxford Circus terminal. To put it bluntly, the Oxford Circus turned into a potentially deadly circus.
Initial reports claim 16 people injured, 1 seriously. Fortunately, no fatalities were reported in the November 24, 2017 incident.
Metropolitan Police said the inexplicable confusion occurred coinciding with numerous 999 calls. Descriptions varied widely, from bombs to gang fights to shots being fired. Some even claimed to have seen people who were shot.
But there was zero evidence of any weapons being fired. The emergency evacuation address system was activated, which ironically, may have further exacerbated the panic.
According to social media online analytics tool Trendsmap, words like “Oxford” and “tube” appeared in hundreds of thousands of tweets in the hours surrounding the incident. Hashtags with the word “MetropolitanPolice” jumped exponentially.
Keep in mind, London is a city on edge. Other recent mass panics and deadly terrorist attacks include Westminster Bridge, London Bridge, Borough Market, the parliament and most recently, the tube at Parson’s Green. Don’t forget, British citizens are less than a year removed from a suicide attack which killed 23 at an Ariana Grande Concert in Manchester, England. Over 500 were injured in that incident which stoked fear worldwide.
This comes just one day after 300+ were killed in an Egyptian Mosque attack, when a teenage bomber detonated his suicide vest and a terrorist group open-fired on those fleeing the building.
These kinds of attacks tend to resonate and contribute to a culture of fear. The more attacks, the greater the sense of public trepidation.
Would an attack on Black Friday shoppers at retail outlets really be that unthinkable?
Here’s an interesting side note:
England has a slightly different strategy for dealing with a perceived terrorist attack. In the United States, it’s “run, hide, fight.”
But the British protocol is “run, hide, tell.”
It’s often followed up with another British slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On.” That slogan and graphic originated back in 1939 during Great Britain’s involvement in World War II, to help thwart panic in the face of devastating air raids.
When the panic broke out, popular singer and British entertainer Olly Murs was at Selfridges, a European chain of upscale department stores.
Let’s take a look at his real-time tweets:
Fuck everyone get out of @Selfridges now gun shots!! I’m inside
Really not sure what’s happened! I’m in the back office… but people screaming and running towards exits!
Evacuating store now!!! Fuck heart is pounding
Being told no shots in Selfridges! Have no idea the whole store went crazy!
I’m safe and in hotel with loads of people! So many different stories flying around just hope everyone is safe
Now observe what happens when television news personality Piers Morgan enters the equation:
Piers MorganVerified account @piersmorgan
Stop tweeting mate @ollyofficial. Nothing happened.
Olly MursVerified account @ollyofficial — Listen piers! I was shopping and then all of sudden the whole place went mad, I mean crazy people running & screaming towards exits. We found a small office to hide to which loads of staff and people were saying there was shots fired. If you was there you’d have understood mate.
Piers MorganVerified account @piersmorgan — No. You listen, Olly. When you have millions of followers be very careful what you tweet. There were no shots, in fact nothing happened at all. So you stirred extra needless panic by tweeting false information.
Olly MursVerified account @ollyofficial — No you listen Piers.. your comments are unfair mate. It’s Easy to say now it was nothing but in a state of shock and panic I was trying to make people aware of what was happening. Which I was lend to believe by staff and customers that someone was shooting.
Despite what actually happened I’m so glad it was nothing serious and I hope everyone got home safely
Olly Murs has 7.8 million followers on twitter. Piers Morgan has 6.24 million followers and is assuredly more connected to the network news, live television and real-world events.
These real-time tweets echo my larger concerns regarding the prospect of an artificially generated stampede.
Fortunately, something like this could NEVER happen in the United States. Because the most prominent citizens of our country use twitter in a demonstrably more rational, competent and judicious manner. Hint: #45 currently has 43.4 million twitter followers.
And one additional warning: Just because you later edit, correct or delete a tweet… doesn’t mean the initial information was never sent and redistributed. Mitigation and damage control are inconsequential and irrelevant in the aftermath of a tragedy.