As most of you know already know, spectators and runners at the Boston Marathon were brutally and cowardly attacked on Monday afternoon.
Living in a world run by social media, most of the information spread yesterday were consumed by people on social networking sites, rather than the major news networks.
Over the course of the day, I relied on social media to provide me with information. These networks included Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and Reddit. I know I wasn’t the only one. Here are the various uses of how I gathered information during this terrible incident:
Like most news nowadays, Twitter was spreading information on the incident well before the main television networks (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc.) were talking about it. I personally found out about the bombing from this Facebook post from Deadspin.
The post was a picture from above the scene where the first bomb detonated. The photo came from Twitter user @theoriginalwak. The caption was fitting considering no one knew what happened at the time: “what the [blank] just happened?”
From there, I was able to follow the story through tweets of people that I know that were in Boston. I had an eye on my Twitter feed earlier in the day because of the Red Sox game going on and noticed that Ramsey Mohsen was tweeting pictures and video from his vantage point of the Boston Marathon. Mohsen is from Kansas City and was watching Ali Hatfield (also from Kansas City) race.
Ramsey’s sister, Sarah, detailed how she got in contact with her brother to find out he was safe (who then communicated that information to her parents and friends) on her blog.
Twitter accounts such as the @BostonGlobe, @RunnersWorld, @AmalieBenjamin, and @GregHall24 (The Daily Kansan interviewed Greg and you can read about his story here) did a great job of providing a mix of first-hand accounts plus actual reporting and telling people where to and where not to go.
Here are just a few of the tweets that helped paint the picture for those outside of Boston:
BREAKING: A witness reports hearing two loud booms near the Boston Marathon finish line.
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) April 15, 2013
BAA: 4,496 runners crossed the 40K mark and did not reach finish line. 1,246 runners were diverted/stopped before 40K.
— Runner’s World (@runnersworld) April 15, 2013
#BostonMarathon runners: B.A.A. says Boston Common is the new family meeting area.
— Runner’s World (@runnersworld) April 15, 2013
Up until I went to college, I lived an hour and a half away from Boston. I have high school friends that now live in Boston and my brother occasionally goes to Boston for business trips. I was able to use Facebook to communicate with my parents to find out my brother wasn’t in the area. I was also able to find out that most of my friends in the area were either in their apartments or they were safely in lockdown in a business.
The first video I saw of the bombing came from the social network, Vine (which of course, I found on Twitter).
A Boston Globe reporter posted the first raw, unedited video of the bomb going off. It wasn’t uploaded onto to the Boston Globe server, but onto their YouTube page.
Google realized that people were looking for information on runners and spectators to see if they were okay. They opened up a system that allowed users to search for people by name and to note if they were safe, injured, missing or they hadn’t been accounted for. They posted this link on their Facebook and Twitter pages.
Reddit was constantly updating their main thread. Late Tuesday afternoon, they had six different threads full of sourced information. They mainly were able to aggregate all types of links from YouTube videos to tweets. They did a better job of organizing information than most main news sources.
Negative Comments and False Posts
Unfortunately, there are always some people who use tragedies like this to benefit themselves, to troll, or to just cause confusion. Fortunately, these people are in the minority.
Several people made up lies. One of the lies was about the child that passed away. They used photos of a girl saying she was running for Sandy Hook Elementary. This myth was debunked by the Joe Cassella Foundation on Facebook.
Other people used the attacks to talk about non-important issues like Barack Obama’s presidency, security at baseball games, social media posts from businesses, etc., and some people tweeted out blatant lies (e.g., the death toll). Gawker has a list of all the conspiracy theories.
Social Media’s Impact on the Tragedy
While there were certainly social media posts full of misinformation and deception, there was way more good that came from it. It serves as a reminder that social media is more than just posting funny pictures videos or updates about your life, it can be extremely informational and help people communicate important information.
There were moments when people couldn’t use a cell phone to make a call out of Boston on Monday. During that time, social media helped reassure people that their family members were okay and helped spread information that otherwise would not have been known.
It is in these moments when it is a good idea to be socially connected to the world because it might not only be the best way to communicate, but it could end up being the only way to communicate.