When ‘allegedly’ means ‘blatantly’ on social media

Social media users were quick today to judge this unpleasant tirade on a London tram – and who can blame them? It’s not clear what causes the rant from the woman with a child on her lap, but it seems that she was at it for long enough for a fellow passenger to film her and post the clip on YouTube.

Tens of thousands of views later, the woman is trending on Twitter and in the media spotlight after having been arrested by police investigating the incident.

The reaction to the outburst on social media contrasts with the way journalists have treated it, despite having access to the same material. Note the use of the word ‘allegedly’ in The Guardian’s report of the incident this morning, appearing to show restraint as a police investigation takes place in the background, even though anyone who sees the clip will surely come to a quick conclusion about what’s happened.

It highlights a key difference between news journalism and social media and the way they reflect on the world. In the news, the woman ‘allegedly’ makes racist comments because she has not yet been convicted of anything and newsdesks are mindful of Contempt of Court legislation. To those sitting in judgement on their laptops and iPhones, such phrases can make the old media seem flat-footed. How much more blatant can one get? Well, only time will tell.

Either way, most people agree it’s pretty disgraceful (if genuine) and will hope the police bring the case to a quick close.

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