Published on April 19, 2013 | by Nina Reschovsky0
Social media and the Boston bombings
Having done my BA at Boston University (BU), whose campus falls smack in the center of the marathon course, I was horrified by the news of the marathon explosions.
During my four years at BU, I spent each marathon on the streets of Boston. Marathon Monday is a celebration like no other, comparable to perhaps the Jubilee celebrations or a royal wedding. The city virtually shuts down and the streets become the site of one giant party.
This year was no exception. Not only did I have friends still at BU who were partaking in the festivities, but also some who were running the marathon.
Desperate to get in contact with them, I turned to social media.
In what ABC News is calling “the first terrorist attacks of the social media generation”, social media proved an invaluable source of communication for runners and spectators.
Many were without cell phones or struggled to get reception due to heavy usage flooding the networks. Within seconds of the explosion, those at the marathon took to Twitter and Facebook to locate friends and family, and confirm their safety to loved ones afar.
“I updated my Facebook as soon as I saw what an effective method of communication it was,”
Michelle Prevost, a Boston resident
“I absolutely relied on social media to track the events as well as check in on others attending or running. In comparison to my peers, I am not someone who heavily relies on social media in my day-to-day activities, but the importance of these media outlets on that day was immediate and obvious,” said Michelle Prevost, a Boston resident who ran the marathon last year.
Immediately following the attacks, people both in and out of Boston used social media to share news, pictures, and prayers. Within an hour of the detonation, there were 38,000 tweets containing the word “Boston”. Within four hours, that number had more than tripled.
“Boston-related posts were virtually the only thing that came up on my Facebook and Twitter newsfeed,” said Erin Benton, a former Boston University student who now lives in California.
“I kept seeing people post that they were safe which was incredibly comforting. Being so far away from Boston was stressful, but all the information, updates and thoughts my friends were posting was reassuring.”
Throughout the week, social media played a vital role in disseminating information. Various news sources updated Twitter users on the FBI investigation, images of the two suspects, and the latest on the shootouts and citywide lockdown.
On the day of the marathon, city officials turned to social media to try to identify the perpetrators of the attack. Following the explosion, the Boston Police Department tweeted a request for all video footage taken at the finish line both before and after the bomb explosion.
In the days that followed, countless Facebook and Twitter users shared the photo released by the FBI of the two suspects (who are now known to be Dzokhar A Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev), urging people to contact authorities with information.
During the hunt for the two suspects, the Boston Police turned to Twitter again for the public’s help, tweeting “WANTED” with the make and model of the car stolen by the suspects.
Unlike in many previous tragedies, where the use of social media was seen as detrimental to the investigation, in this case, it has been a source of comfort and news.
For more information on how social media affects our lives, look out for the ALN May print edition.