Seeking Refuge in Social Media after Boston Marathon Bombing

By Ed Silverstein April 17, 2013

Based on the response to the Boston Marathon bombing, social media has once again become the place to which many people turn in a national crisis.

There were thousands of Tweets and Facebook comments related to the deadly attacks. The statements and pictures let users see the latest information – whether it was just after the incident or in later hours, as people worried about the condition of loved ones.

As of latest reports, TechZone360 said three people were killed and more than 170 suffered injuries, some of which were very serious. No arrests were made as of Wednesday morning, but the inquiry into the attack was called a “potential terrorism investigation,’’ news reports said, citing a top, unnamed government official.

“A whole bunch of people came to Twitter to talk about what happened,” Twitter’s vice president of product Michael Sippey told an All Things D public forum on Tuesday. “My heart goes out to everybody in the city of Boston.”

Twitter saw a 200-fold increase in the use of the word “Boston” in Tweets on Monday. The microblogging platform also reported that it saw a peak in the use of the word “help” in Tweets in the last 180 days, due in large part to those praising the help offered by first responders and Twitter users offering their help to other Twitter readers.

Sippey also confirmed that there was some false information Tweeted, but the “citizens” and professional journalists reading the service were able to “rout out bad information.” It was clarified without any filtering by the company.

Also, as of 4:10 p.m. on Monday, there were over 300,000 mentions on Twitter of “Boston explosions,” based on data from Topsy. By 4:30 p.m., there were more than 700,000 mentions on Twitter of “Boston Marathon.”

And between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., over 75,000 tweets mentioned “Pray for Boston.”

Facebook saw many statements related to the bombing as well. Osama Ahlasa, for instance, posted, "All Americans stand with the people of Boston."

In addition, a photo of an unidentified man on a rooftop, near the finish line of the marathon, led to widespread speculation after it went viral. One Tweet included a message which read, “Moments before the explosions at the Boston marathon, question is who's on the roof.” It appears the man remains unidentified and authorities were investigating the photo. It’s possible he was only there to get a better view of the marathon.

Dan Lampariello took the photo from his vantage point some 200 feet from the finish line. He also took a photograph which showed smoke and fire after the second bomb exploded.

Even the Boston Police Department used Twitter to send out messages to the community. One gave the tip line, another asked that people remain patient, and a third helped those looking for the condition of relatives.

Also, Google’s Person Finder service was still tracking about 5,500 records following the Boston bombing as of Wednesday morning.

In addition, The Boston Globe posted a live blog on its homepage featuring Tweets from the police and other officials, the news media and citizens.

The first bomb exploding was shown via a Vine recording condensed to a six-second loop.

"Authorities have recognized that one the first places people go in events like this is to social media, to see what the crowd is saying about what to do next," Bill Braniff, executive director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism, told National Geographic. "And today authorities went to Twitter and directed them to traditional media environments where authorities can present a clear calm picture of what to do next."

"We know from crisis communication research that people typically search for corroborating information before they take a corrective action—their TV tells them there's a tornado brewing and they talk to relatives and neighbors. And now they look at Twitter," he added.

The use of social media reportedly gave users access to instant images as well. “On Monday, there were instant images. Showing us what violence really looks like: Sudden and absurd, completely out of place. The shocking correction of our perception of peace. The quality that makes violence violence,” according to the analysis appearing on The Wrap.

Edited by Braden Becker

TechZone360 Contributor

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