Social Media: The dangers behind false rumours

Social Media
SOCIAL MEDIA: The immediacy and viral power of Social Media can be a force for good – but it also has potential to cause great harm when it is used to deliberately spread false information and rumours.

THE MURDER of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich has sent shockwaves across all communities in recent days.

The vast majority of people share a sense of horror: not only for an attack on one of our armed forces officers, but also the calculated attack on our way of life.

Having spent my high school days in Middleton, and now living just up the road, I know that the pain and loss felt by that community is stark and something we’re all feeling as we try to come to terms with such a senseless act.

Less than six years ago the so-called 7/7 London bombings on public transport brought home to us how vulnerable we actually are to attacks from extremists. This latest chilling incident will do nothing to reduce those fears or to reassure people that we live in a truly cohesive community,

Soon after news broke of the Woolwich attack other extremists also quickly jumped on the hatred bandwagon. This time it was the EDL and other groups who, perhaps without realising it, were simply adding fuel to an already volatile and heated situation.

We have to accept that in a fair and free society some people will at times abuse that freedom.

All too often we see situations where that fairness is seen as a sign of weakness that those with extremist and hate-filled agendas can exploit to mount an attack – and that can come in many guises.

The killing of an innocent man walking down the streets of Woolwich was, clearly, the worst of the worst. Only his family can truly understand the irreplaceable loss.

But what concerns me more than when any tiny minority uses religion, faith, culture, events and a sense of unfairness or injustice as a reason for hate, is when normal everyday people stand on the sidelines and say nothing – or even worse join in without considering the serious implications of what they are doing.

I saw this first hand on Social Media at the end of last week when some people were spreading total lies about there being “a riot in Oldham” and claiming that Muslims here had taken to our streets to celebrate the killing of drummer Lee Rigby.

None of this was true.

It was bad enough that some spineless individuals were using the cover that Social Media offers to lie and incite others, but what made it worse was how many people allowed themselves to be duped into believing it and, seemingly without thinking about the potential consequences, simply pressed ‘retweet’.

Twitter is only a modern means of communication and arguably those people were no more or less irresponsible than someone who repeats the rumour to the next person they see.

But the immediacy and power of Twitter and Facebook – as shown in the so-called ‘Blackberry’ riots in the UK in 2011 – has the potential to cause great harm to our towns, cities and communities. A whisper on there can acquire a frightening momentum in just minutes, regardless of whether it is true or not, and there’s little in place other than our own self-restraint to stop the potential spread of ‘viral violence’.

Oldham was spared any trouble in 2011, but we did face our own riots back in 2001 and – surely – none of us EVER want to return to those dark days?

We do not want our town being lazily slated in the national press with the end result that investors and jobs are scared off. And be in no doubt, in this economic climate, that our much-needed and long-awaited regeneration could be the ultimate price we all pay if something goes wrong.

I believe there is a responsibility for each and every one of us – regardless of our background or individual sense of belonging – to see beyond race, religion and cultural ties and recognise that we are Oldhamers.

It doesn’t matter if you’re white, Asian, black or anything else for me.

If we live here we all have a responsibility to stand up for what is right for the wider community, not just our own little part of it.

Simplistic talk of “them and us” won’t help – nor will trying to justify one extremist action because of another. Remember, extremists in any guise rely on the majority being indifferent or even passively sympathetic for them to be able to grow the seeds of hate.

I am asking people to please just pause and think before repeating and retweeting something you cannot verify to be true. Please refer to official sources of information first, like ourselves and Greater Manchester Police, before passing something on as ‘the truth’.

To end on a more positive note I wanted to highlight that the last few days have seen some local events and activities that everyone in our Borough can rightly be proud of.

Last weekend in particular was a great time to be here with our world famous Saddleworth and Lees band contests undeterred by the weather on Whit Friday, and Festival Oldham drawing families onto the streets of Oldham Town Centre.

Both events give visitors a very positive impression of our Borough and they bring in people who may never have considered coming here at all.

We are currently compiling a huge list of events running throughout the year in every part of our Borough and are going to be working with partners to actively promote these to a much wider audience. Not only will this be a great boost to the event organisers, but it will also help us to challenge many preconceived ideas about Oldham.

I cannot close this week without passing comment on the accession of Councillor John Hudson to become the new Mayor of Oldham.

The honour, bestowed at our Annual Council meeting, was cheered by many well-wishers and we heard some very entertaining speeches about the role John has played in local politics over several decades.

Two things are guaranteed in the next 12 months from our new Mayor.

Firstly, I believe he will be a good ambassador who will work across party political boundaries to promote all that we are doing to regenerate our Borough and create jobs.

Secondly, John’s trademark quick wit and unique style could see our viewing figures for Full Council meetings increase twofold on the Internet. I just hope we’ve got the IT capacity to cope!

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Lancaster is symbol of civic pride and innovation

Lancaster Bomber
THE ICONIC LANCASTER: In Oldham, during the Second World War, there were 29,000 people employed building Lancasters, including night shifts and sub-contractors across the town.

THE SEVENTIETH anniversary of the Lancaster Bombers’ daring Dambuster Raid has rightly given focus to the fight to win the Second World War – and also to our Borough.

The Oldham Chronicle last week featured the tales of two heroic Oldhamers: Bill Howarth, who survived the operation and later died aged 68, and Donald Hopkinson, who lost his life during the return leg aged just 22.

Many men and women from our district worked on the production of the Lancaster at BAE Systems. Their work demonstrated the scale and quality of our engineering skills – and the drive to produce the best.

Although the Lancaster is now in the history books and the former BAE Systems site has been vacated – and soon to be home to the next generation of engineers under the ownership of NOV MonoPumps – it is still at least remembered by name at the former BAE Systems sports and social club at the Lancaster Club.

That building is now under Oldham Council ownership occupying the grade II-listed Failsworth Lodge off Broadway, which was built in 1770 as a hunting lodge for Captain Birch.

Interestingly another claim to fame here is that the lodge subsequently became a private school and was attended by a young Robert Peel, whose father was a wealthy cotton mill owner. He, of course, went on to become Prime Minister of this country twice and was also the founder of the Metropolitan Police. Anyway ,I digress…

I haven’t lost sight of my own ambition to see the Lancaster Bomber remembered here in our Borough:  ideally in Chadderton.

Although siting a replica of it somewhere might be some time off, if it happens at all, we have started with a small gesture now by featuring the Lancaster on the boundary signs into Chadderton.

These signs are only a token, but I hope people will drive by and take a sense of pride from them. Perhaps our up-and-coming generations might look up and say ‘Well I never knew that’ or even ask ‘What’s a Lancaster Bomber?’ and go to find out for themselves.

The Lancaster gives us a place in the history books that we can be proud of. We are an industrious, productive and imaginative Borough made up of seven distinct townships each with its own identity and own claims to fame.

We recently launched our consultation with the public on how we might best recognise our place in history in Oldham town centre through the Borough Life magazine and online here.

You can have your say on which category you feel would best represent our history.

You will notice that we have included a broad range of categories to give choice, but we haven’t given an option to say ‘no’. Why? The reason is simple.

The ‘no’ campaign has won hands down for decades. It’s time we stopped hiding our history and put it on show for the next generations to see and, more importantly, to learn from and respect a Borough which once led the world in many fields.

Finally, following the stunning £1 million donation from Norman Stoller to kick-start the Oldham Enterprise Trust we’re now putting the finishing touches to the programme to involve and support young people into business, self-employment and maybe even devising the next world-changing invention.

Watch this space for more details soon: including how you can get involved.

Clearly though, not everyone will want to go into business for themselves, so I want to make a plea to all who read this blog. Please tell every young person you know about the Apprenticeship App available at http://www.apprenticeships.org.uk/

This shows that there are currently more than 600 vacancies across Greater Manchester in a range of careers and industries.

Interestingly for every Oldham vacancy the average number of applicants is just over 10 per job.

When you compare that with low-paid and low-skilled jobs elsewhere attracting many hundreds of applicants, I see no reason why a young person wouldn’t jump at the chance to set out on a new career.

As someone who started my working life as an apprentice I can say with absolute confidence that it is life-changing when the right employer gets together with a young person and moulds them into a rounded and productive employee.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

One idea: One million reasons to be upbeat

Get Oldham Working
INSPIRATIONAL:  Norman Stoller CBE donated £1 million at the launch of Get Oldham Working to support and develop opportunities for youth employment and entrepreneurs.

THIS IS a very important year as Oldham Council joins forces with partners across the public, private and voluntary sectors to ‘Get Oldham Working’.

The aim of this new campaign is create 2,015 employment opportunities by 2015 and to deliver our flagship ‘Youth Guarantee’ which will see every young person who wants to move on in life given an offer of a job, training, further education or supported into self-employment.

As part of our push to become a ‘Cooperative Borough’ we recognise that this cannot just be an Oldham Council project. It has to be an ambition that is shared by the whole Borough with everyone ‘doing their bit’.

Last Friday night’s ‘One Oldham Business Awards’ was attended by around 500 people and was the ideal opportunity for us to launch Get Oldham Working.

This event is the best of its kind in Greater Manchester and that’s testament to the hard work of the Business Awards Steering Group who give up their time to organise everything so brilliantly, plus all those people who nominate, sponsor and attend.

I explained to the audience at the Queen Elizabeth Hall that our town is regenerating at a rapid pace. At a time when many others are simply managing decline, we are leading growth.

No one project in itself will regenerate our town, of course, but the sheer scale of our ambition should not be underestimated.

However, there are challenges. Chiefly, we have a large number of young people leaving school with little hope of going on to further education or employment.

We must be conscious that the difference between development and regeneration is that you are not simply building a shiny new building: you also need to take care of the social and community side too.

We need to get Oldham working: to take us off the top of the Greater Manchester unemployment list and give a ‘hand up’ to the more than 8,000 local people currently out of work.

That challenge is significant – so the response must be equally substantial.

We can’t wait for someone to sort this out for us. We can’t sit here in hope that the UK economy will pick up and Oldham then simply gets a share. If we do that, we will fail again.

When the last boom came, Oldham flagged. Much money went into the public sector without creating the environment for growth so that – when the tough times did come – we simply weren’t able to withstand the force of the blow.

We’ve embarked here upon what I believe is the most ambitious town centre investment plan in the region. It will create jobs and breed confidence, but we need to do more to Get Oldham Working.

No one organisation, sector or approach can do this, so we need to marshal all the resources available.

It simply won’t do for us to stand by and see another generation cast aside, forgotten or left without hope or ambition. Our young people are our future. This isn’t just a nice thing to do – it’s essential for the long-term future of our borough.

By 2015 to Get Oldham Working we will have in place the Oldham Youth Guarantee. That will mean no young person will leave school at 18 without the guarantee of a job, education, apprenticeship or support towards self-employment.

We want to show young people that Oldham is town which believes in you – a town which once led the  world and hasn’t lost that spirit of enterprise.

We want to say to every young person – if you’re willing to roll your sleeves up and get on in life you will have the full support of your town behind you.

Now that’s a big ambition – unique in fact – and the first in the country. But it is possible. We can do it if we pool resources and everybody does their bit.
I asked firms at the One Oldham Business Awards to give us momentum and start by pledging their support to Get Oldham Working.

That can be a range of things. Businesses can, for example, help by taking on an apprenticeship with funding support for just £2,000 a year. They can also create a job, or commit to supporting local suppliers and producers.

I told them that our ambition for Oldham is big, and urged them to think big too.

I have already outlined these plans to one of our town’s biggest supporters – Mr Norman Stoller CBE, a Freeman of our Borough.

On Friday night he shared his vision for young people in Oldham to be the best that they can – and agreed to kick-start our plans with a staggering donation.

Norman has pledged £1 million of his hard-earned money from the Stoller Charitable Trust to support our next generation of entrepreneurs in Oldham over the next four years.

It was an astonishing gesture from an inspirational man.

From the bottom of my heart I wish to thank him again – not just for his donation, but for his belief in our town.

We can do this together – and don’t let anyone say that we can’t!

I would ask all local businesses to please visit our website and add their pledge to the campaign via this link Get Oldham Working – Pledge Card 

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Stepping up for Oldham

ENTERPRISE: Oldham's first-ever Student Market was held last Saturday at the Hilton Arcade in a special O Project event
ENTERPRISE: Oldham’s first-ever Student Market was held last Saturday at the Hilton Arcade. The O Project event saw arts, crafts and specialist stalls.

MANY disabled people were left facing an uncertain future when Government funding cuts led to the closure of the Remploy factory last August.

These were workers who had built up many years of loyal service in an environment that was crucial to their lives because they’d previously had difficulty securing work within ‘mainstream’ employment.

Compounding the misery was the fact that the Oldham plant, in Bardsley, had a good reputation.

It made excellent products and it had a healthy order book – but it wasn’t spared the axe.

When former workers and local investors approached Oldham Council with the aim to restart elements of the former business it was fair to say that the hurdles in front of us seemed high.

Many would have turned away at this point but the team led by local businessman Mike Braddock worked with the help of Michael Meacher MP and Councillor Shoab Akhtar, who leads on Business and Skills for us in Cabinet.

This new factory at the Trent Industrial Estate in Shaw – revealed this week – is going to be run by managers who were part of the previous Remploy brand.

That means customers can be assured of the same excellent service whilst also retaining that highly-valued approach to employing people with disabilities and limiting conditions.

The end result is that 22 people will now be employed by 4D Enterprises – and I am pleased for several reasons.

Firstly this is a welcome ray of light against the backdrop of national economic doom and gloom.

Secondly, when Oldham Council was put to the test on its pledge to be ‘Open for Business’ it passed.

And thirdly it also shows that other people in Oldham are also ready to – and really do – step up to the mark when asked.

We’ve also just seen the launch of our first-ever student market in the Hilton Arcade last weekend.

This fine covered walkway, which takes shoppers from High Street to Tommyfield, has always had the obvious potential to offer something different to our town centre and, on Saturday, it showed that in spades.

One of the pupils involved in this is Eric Bishyika who I had the pleasure to meet on my ‘round the town tour’ of all our secondary schools.

Eric took part in the conversation at the new Oasis Academy School on Hollins Road and I was convinced then that this is a young man likely to be a star – and possibly millionaire – in the making.

Having secured a place at the Peter Jones Academy, Eric was already selling clothing from a stall at Afflecks Palace in Manchester.

This is also an idea which came to us by Twitter from a local resident. We then took it to Oldham College, who were already looking at responding to student calls for better facilities in the town centre, and what you see today is the outcome of that.

Thanks to those who are part of the O Project we now have our very own piece of arts, crafts and specialist trading right here in Oldham.

What makes this so important – apart from creating a fantastic reason to visit our town centre – is the spirit of enterprise that it encourages amongst our young people.

Both these stories are evidence that Oldham is beginning to shake itself off and really step up to the mark.

This is going to be an exciting year for our town centre with Metrolink construction completing and works beginning on our flagship cinema and restaurant complex in the Old Town Hall.

And there is much more to come.

Finally – please note –  because of the Alexandra Ward by election taking place on Thursday, May 9, my next blog update will now be posted here on Wednesday, May  15.

Thanks for listening,

Jim