The Granville Gunman and Twitter

If, as I do, you live on a small and rather insignificant road in suburban north London, it’s not an everyday occurrence to see said location being reported as the scene of a crime. Especially not when the situation involves a stand-off between a gunman and armed police officers.

But today my little tiny road got its five minutes of fame. It started with a tweet from Barnet Police, a tweet that piqued my interest.

Within minutes, Twitter (albeit a limited number of geographically concentrated users – it’s not  a huge road) was abuzz. The police followed up with an explanation: “Police had reports of a man believed to be in possession of firearm. Police are trying to bring this to a peaceful conclusion.”

The Shomrim, the Orthodox Jewish security network, swiftly added this detail: “Armed Police are restricting access. Avoid area if possible”.

And then the rumours went a-swirling, some factual, others totally nonsensical. According to various sources, including local press and interested onlookers, the lone gunman was in his mid-50s and recently unemployed, on the 14th floor of a block of flats. Residents were being evacuated, or refused entry to the road. There were police helicopters, television crews, and this little gem, courtesy of the Times Series newspapers; ““He put a bottle of Jack Daniels, a tin of spinach and a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale down and said ‘There’s a little present for ya’.”

A few hours later, there seemed to be no clear resolution. I headed home, wondering whether I’d be allowed back into my flat, visions of various police dramas running through my head.

As it turned out, all was quiet on the Granville front, although the road was awash with policemen and, curiously, a fire engine. A police officer at the other entrance to the road said it was fine to go through. I asked whether there was any update and unsurprisingly, he remained tight-lipped. But minutes later, safe in my building, Barnet MPS tweeted again:

And so ended the drama of the Granville Gunman (as I hashtagged him), though the police will no doubt release more information in due course. A bit of excitement for the residents on a cold January afternoon, but nothing serious.

But the incident offers yet more proof of Twitter’s influence. As a journalist, I’d probably have found out about this sooner rather than later, even had it not been for Barnet police’s tweet. But most members of the population don’t have access to police press departments and many, if not most, don’t follow the local media religiously.

Social media does many things – and certainly, as today’s events demonstrated, it can misinform or spread panic – but as a way of getting information to the public promptly and efficiently, it’s pretty darn effective.

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