Social Media Shines During Boston Marathon Bombing

boston-marathon-bombsOn April 15th, one of the symbols of Massachusetts Patriots Day and much more, the Boston Marathon, fell victim to bombings from an unknown source. The news broke early in the afternoon of the 15th and spread like wildfire thanks to cable television and the internet. As it has done in the past, social media played an important role in not only comforting and informing millions of people, but also helping with disaster relief and helping the investigation.

Twitter, Facebook Lead with Information

The Boston area became my new adopted home back in January. I’ve loved living here so far, and this horrible attack doesn’t change any of that. I heard about the attacks shortly after they occurred. As we’ve learned over the years from crises and disasters, Twitter is an amazing source of information. That’s where I went to find out what was going on.

Twitter was immediately full of concern, condolences, and information from outlets around the country. Finding out what was happening in what was essentially real time helped myself and many others to make sense of the situation as best we could. As cell phone service in downtown Boston failed, Twitter and Facebook became the primary way to communicate for those in that area.

Not long after the news broke, a Twitter Vine video was the first to show footage of the bombs. To me, this was amazing. Vine showed that it’s not only an excellent tool for businesses, agencies, and individuals, it can also be an immediate source of information bringing with it more than 140 characters could hope to.

Facebook, for its part, was able to help people connect with loved ones and friends. I can’t tell you how comforting it was to know that the friends I knew in the area were safe and sound. Without social media I probably wouldn’t have known.

I think Dan Gilgoff and Jane J. Lee capture how important social media was during this disaster for National Geographic when they wrote: “As word spread of the blasts on Monday afternoon, social media seemed shaped by every aspect of the response, from runners giving their accounts of the race-turned-nightmare on Facebook, to authorities using Twitter to give instant updates, to The Boston Globe temporarily converting its homepage to a live blog that pulled in Tweets from Boston authorities, news outlets, and ordinary citizens.”

Google’s People Finder

Google released a powerful tool to help concerned friends and family locate those they were worried or concerned about. Google’s People Finder for the Boston Marathon has already managed to track 5200 records.

In addition to that, a Google Drive document has been used to help organize housing for the hundreds who did not have a place to stay after the marathon. As Sam Laird reports for Mashable, “The Boston Globe’s digital arm asked locals to offer extra space to Boston Marathon runners and spectators stranded in town.” A Google Drive document was created shortly after and has since turned into a long, heartwarming list of people who care and are opening their homes.

Latest on the Disaster

According to CNN, over 150 people have been injured with some still in critical condition. Three people have died, including an 8-year-old boy. Hopefully those numbers do not continue to grow, as they have been since the news first broke.

The investigation is still ongoing. What’s frustrating to me is that no one has claimed responsibility. Many of us are waiting to find out who did this and why they did it. You can bet social media will be the first to spread the word, whoever is responsible.

If you’re a business or agency, now is a great time to express your solidarity with those who have suffered and with the city of Boston. Offer suggestions about how people can help, and be sincere, clear, and straightforward. Unfortunately there are still businesses and people that will rightly or wrongly come across as insincere or taking advantage of the situation. They pay the price online, though.

Final Words

This bombing was a terrible event. I wanted to share with anyone who reads this an important article posted in The Atlantic written by Bruce Schneier. Bruce reminds us about a lot of things, but he closes with, “Empathize, but refuse to be terrorized. Instead, be indomitable – and support leaders who are as well. That’s how to defeat terrorists.”

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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