Take Twitter with a pinch of salt, it’s not the full story

The world looked on with dismay on the 19th April as what should have been a wholesome, family friendly, feel good event was turned on its head with the Boston Marathon bombings.  At the centre of the breaking of this news story stood the mouthpiece for Joe Public, Twitter. When a big story breaks we no longer sit glued to our television screens for our fix – we turn to our phones and laptops for real time revelation.  Rather than watch a suited and booted news reporter digest the information for us, we are turning in our droves to ‘first hand accounts’ online for a more affecting relation of events, as it happens, where it happens.

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The Boston Police department headed on to Twitter to dispatch information to the public, such as @Boston_Police ‘Suspect in custody. Officers sweeping the area. Stand by for further info.’  CNN reporter Anderson Cooper even halted his live report to turn to his phone and tweet to the world that the suspected bomber was in custody,  ‘#Breaking: Boston Police say marathon bombing suspect #2 is in custody. @andersoncooper reports on #CNN with more information’.

The Twitter gods appear to be enjoying their status as a news providing network.  In 2009 the question asked to users for status updates changed from ‘What are you doing?’ to ‘What’s happening?’, a signal of the shift from the network as a platform for the voicing of private matters to those of public concern.

Does Twitter spell the end for good old fashioned news reporting? Can we get all the information we need in 140 character hits? The answer is, most certainly, no.  Twitter has proved instrumental in the organisation of protests in recent years, its influence so profound during the 2009-10 Iranian election protests and 2011 Egyptian revolution that the respective governments blocked the service.  It is also thanks to Twitter that we found out about Ryan Giggs’s naughty side, in a mark of protest by users disturbed by the impact of injunctions upon freedom of the press.  Twitter can get information into the public eye that may be otherwise blocked by media channels, however there is a darker side to the ostensibly earnest hash tag.

While Twitter is able to rapidly spread information to colossal volumes of people, there are no checks and balances for insuring that the information is correct.  I am by no means advocating censorship of social networks, but implore Twitter followers to tread cautiously.  Twitter is primarily a medium for speculation.  As well as keeping us updated concerning developments in the Boston Marathon bombing saga, Twitter also produced droves of unverified drivel.  Apparently marathon runners who witnessed the bombing kept running past the finish line and straight to the hospital to do their bit to help the wounded and give blood.  It was also instantly assumed by many tweeters that the bombs were an act of Muslim terrorism.  However, if you believe everything that you read on the network, it was also pulled off by right wing white supremacists.  Some tweeters became embroiled in a witch hunt by wrongly laying  the blame at the door of missing person Sunil Tripathi, who has since tragically been found dead after a battle with depression.

Another Twitter offender, or ‘twat’ as they are more tenderly referred to, is Sally Bercow.  The wife of the Commons speaker has ended up in a libel battle after she decided to use Twitter to link former Tory chairman Lord McAlpine to an allegation of child sex abuse.  Her use of an innocent face smiley was no protection against accusations of slander. While journalists are trained in the defamation laws, no such instruction is given when you set up your Twitter account.

Within the confines of 140 characters, tweets can appear to be lucid and definitive.  The little blue bird seems so dependable.  As cute as he is, he’s not a stringent checker of facts.  When put in perspective, Twitter is not a serious challenge to news broadcasting – remember the top three most popular accounts are held by Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.  While one can come across gems of information there is a lot of fluff on there. Behind the comforting invisibility cloak of a computer screen everyone fancies themselves as a highly reputable social commentator/news reporter.  Twitter can offer a tip off at best, but not the full package.

Published in the University of Bristol student paper, The Epigram

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Does affirmative action foster an anti-white prejudice?

In November 2008 Barack Obama opened his Presidential acceptance speech with the message ‘If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.’  The election of a man of mixed racial heritage to the job regarded to be the most powerful in the country should have been the moment that America broke down the last barriers of racial discrimination.  America should have finally become the country it always wanted to be, in which ‘all things are possible’ for all individuals, regardless of one’s racial heritage.

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A recent study conducted by Harvard Business School and Tufts University suggests that Obama’s victory has not pushed America into an era devoid of racial prejudice.  According to the study, racial discrimination has emerged in another form. The pendulum of discrimination has swung in the other direction, as the study proposes that it is the white majority population that now feels effected by racial bias.  Approximately 200 white and 200 black people were randomly selected from a national census and asked to rate racist attitudes against blacks and whites in every decade from 1950 onwards.  Eleven per cent of white respondents gave the current level of anti-white racism the maximum rating of ten points.  The authors of the study point towards an issue of ‘severe legal and social controversies’ creating a form of ‘reverse racism’.

Affirmative action appears to be playing a crucial role in engendering these feelings amongst the white population.  Affirmative action originated in the 1960s as a way of forcing employers to ensure they did not discriminate against applicants on the basis of race, creed, colour or national origin.

Some whites feel they are now at a disadvantage when applying for jobs as employers go out of their way to fulfil a secret quota of employees representing ethnic minorities.  Whites also feel discriminated against when applying for educational institutions, as demonstrated in the case of Fisher vs University of Texas.  Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz, both white, applied to the University of Texas at Austin in 2008, and were denied admission. They claim the university discriminated against them because of their race, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment.  The supposed anti-white bias has created an America not compatible with the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims ‘all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’  A society that continues to give advantages to individuals based on race undermines the Founding Fathers commitment to equality.  Many whites feel America’s cherished individualism has lost out to political correctness.

The facts and figures regarding the socio-economic position of black people suggests the supposed anti-white bias has not produced an imminent threat to the white population’s position as the wealthiest ethnic group in the States.  Currently the black unemployment rate is almost double the employment rate of the white population, with 14.1% of blacks unemployed compared with 7.4% of whites.  Things do not look to be improving for the black community, as the racial gap – having narrowed between 2005 and 2009 – has once again widened following the recession’s June 2009 end. Analysis of Census Bureau data by Sentier Research has revealed that in the past three years the median annual income of black households has fallen by 11.1%, which is over double the 5.2% inflation-adjusted decline experienced by white households.

America’s complex history as an ethnic melting pot has left many wounds unhealed.  As the authors of the study suggest, America is still struggling to reach a ‘post-racial’ era.  The media’s rhetoric continues to focus heavily on race, with Obama unable to shake the tag line of America’s first black President.  It will take many more Presidents from ethnic minority groups for the novelty to wear off, and many more years of socio-economic development amongst America’s poorer ethnic minority groups to ensure race disappears as a means for judging the merit of an individual.

Published in the University of Bristol student newspaper, The Epigram, February 2013 

Virgin Hotels’ first property opens in Chicago

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Virgin Hotels has opened its first property, Virgin Hotels Chicago.

Virgin Hotels

The 26-storey art deco building is located in Chicago’s Loop district and offers 250 guest rooms, including 40 one-bedroom suites and two penthouse suites.

It offers free Wi-Fi and charges no fees for early check-in, late check-out, room service delivery or business centre transactions.

Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder, said: “It’s been a long-held dream to start beautiful, comfortable, fun hotels for guests and give them what they want and need while being gentle on their wallets.”

Raul Leal, chief executive of Virgin Hotels, said: “It’s an exciting time for our team as we get to unveil our new approach to room design, service, and entertainment within the hotel industry.”

Virgin Hotels plans to open a second hotel in Nashville in summer 2016 and a third property in New York in 2017. Two additional locations will be announced by the end of 2016. The brand aims to have 20 locations by 2025.