After Manchester, Social Media Helps And Hurts, Venues Stay Alert And Shows Go On
"It's so heartbreaking because so many little ones attend our shows ... I just keep thinking about them," Ariana Grande's drummer wrote on Tuesday.
As of Wednesday morning, four people have been arrested in connection with the bombing at the Manchester arena on Monday night which has killed at least 22 people, including an 8-year-old girl. This attack has been, for many, a parallel to the violence that took place inside the Bataclan music venue in Paris in November 2015, where an hours-long hostage situation resulted in 90 dead.
The connection between the two is cultural and spiritual; they were attacks on communal expressions of each, of shared cores. As Ann Powers wrote in the immediate aftermath of the Manchester Arena explosion on young girls' early concert experiences: "Loving the sound, falling into the sound. This is truth." Calls for increased security — and the practical difficulties those calls present — and expressions of solidarity and of carrying on have already spread this week, much as they did in the wake of the Bataclan.
The difference of scale between the two venues is dramatic. The Bataclan is a relatively small, 1,500-capacity venue in Paris' Marais neighborhood. The Manchester Arena is well over ten times that size, with a capacity of 21,000. The Bataclan attack took place inside the venue, when armed gunmen stormed its doorways. Current reports (and a statement from the Manchester Arena in the aftermath of the explosion) indicate that Monday night's tragedy was the result of a single explosion that occurred just outside the arena in a public foyer between the arena and the Victoria train station, and was seemingly timed to coincide with the end of Ariana Grande's concert.
SMG, the company which operates the Manchester Arena, wrote in a statement yesterday:
"The safety and security of our guests is always our highest priority and we constantly work with law enforcement on all aspects of security procedures. Though we do not yet have all of the facts surrounding the senseless tragedy in Manchester, we do know that it occurred in a public space outside of the arena. While we do not comment on our specific security protocols, we will continue to work — as always — with law enforcement officials to ensure the safety and security of our guests, both inside and outside of our facility."
New York's Madison Square Garden, an iconic venue similarly sized to the Manchester Arena and which sits atop a major transportation hub, Penn Station, provided a similar statement, writing that it has "increased security measures" after Manchester, "including a greater police presence, and is continuing to work closely with local law enforcement to ensure we remain informed of any potential concerns."
These venues' statements both hew to what Chris Robinette, the CEO of live-event security company Prevent Advisors, told Billboard a year after the Bataclan attack: More cooperation and information sharing between venue operators and government agencies is needed.
Barclays Center, the Brooklyn arena which, like the Manchester Arena, has a large public foyer that connects to public transportation, tells NPR it does not comment on security protocols.
Live Nation, the world's largest concert promotions company, organized this tour for Grande. They declined to respond to an interview request from NPR, but released a brief statement: "We are deeply saddened by this senseless tragedy and our hearts and thoughts are with those impacted by this devastating incident."
Even the best security is fallible. As Jim Runge wondered to NPR a year after the Bataclan attacks, "If someone is coming at your door with automatic weapons, other than having armed guys at the door, protecting the door, which none of us want, what can you do?"
Kevin Lyman, a founder of the Vans Warped Tour — which is, like Monday night's show, a festival series aimed primarily at younger fans — tells NPR that he has "toured the U.K. many times" and that the country has "some of the best security plans I have ever seen. However, no matter how far you push back the perimeter, people still have to pass through it." And exit from it — as a show concludes, security often assumes its job is largely done.
The Paris attacks of November 2015 were also the first time Facebook activated its Safety Check feature for a non-natural event, something it did at 11:57 p.m. local time on Monday, about an hour-and-a-half after the explosion at Manchester Arena occurred. Facebook tells NPR that the delay in deploying the feature was an abundance of caution, to avoid creating or contributing to a potential false alarm. "Sometimes it can be a little bit delayed after the incident — that's just the nature of crisis," Stephen Rocco Rodi, a communications manager at Facebook, says.
Safety Check is activated after certain criteria are met, including a crisis agency alerting the social media platform, which then begins to monitor the situation and goes forward with the check if posts from the area reach a certain threshold. "This is not an automated process only, but it is triggered by the community," Rodi says.
Facebook has also has faced renewed pressure this week to better patrol the oceans of content regularly posted to the site, after internal documents on its content guidelines were published by The Guardian. The company responded by having Monika Bickert, Facebook's head of global policy management, write an op-ed also published by The Guardian, in which she stated: "Between raising awareness of violence and promoting it, between freedom of expression and freedom from fear, between bearing witness to something and gawking at it – are complicated, philosophical questions." A request by NPR to clarify content guidelines around situations like last night's attack, which involved minors and scenes of graphic violence, was not returned at press time.
Twitter also plays an outsize role in immediate information gathering and sharing, though that social media company keeps its role as moderator much closer to the chest than Facebook does. Asked to comment on how the platform was used last night, a spokesperson referred NPR to a webpage containing its rules and policies. Various hashtags – like #MissingInManchester and #RoomForManchester, which offered places to stay for those stranded by the attack — were used Monday night. Twitter faces similar problems of protecting free speech while combating hate speech and abuse. A tweet from one freelance writer, attempting several jokes at Ariana Grande's expense in the immediate aftermath of the attack, prompted an immediate backlash. Reports of people fabricating relatives affected by the attack exacerbated the situation.
As with the attacks in Nice, Orlando, Paris and Berlin, the event in Manchester was an attack on joyous and sometimes serene gathering places that no amount of security short of hermetic lockdown could perfectly combat.
Concerts at the Manchester Arena scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday from legacy British pop group Take That have been cancelled, as well as a Blondie show in London, "as a mark of respect," as the Associated Press reports. However, a trio of Manchester venues — Albert Hall, The Deaf Institute and Gorilla, all owned by the Trof company, which also operates two bar/restaurants in the city — posted a joint statement asserting the opposite. All events at the three venues are going forward as planned, and the venues' "management and security teams are in regular communication with the police and relevant authorities and are continuously reviewing and enhancing our safety procedures."
A rep for Ariana Grande did not respond when asked whether there would be further cancellations of her Dangerous Woman tour.
"It is a different world we live in, and I think we will continue to see these attacks be attempted," promoter Kevin Lyman says. "Some will be stopped, but some will get through even the best of security plans."
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