The Boston Marathon Bombings and Social Media

Shortly before 3 on Monday, 15 April, I looked on Twitter. The BBC reported that there were two explosions at the Boston Marathon’s finish line. A quick Google search revealed nothing.

45 minutes later, my dad sent me a text message letting me know the same thing. Friends in Scotland started sending me messages, ‘Are you okay? You weren’t in Boston today, were you?’ Friends in the Boston area used Facebook to let their friends and family know that they were safe. It was a relief, the ability to look at a specific friend’s page and see the word ‘Safe’ as a status update.

The outpouring of support to the victims, to the first responders. The video of fans singing the national anthem at the Bruins game. Tears, relief, all present in the days immediately following the Marathon bombing. Steven Colbert’s hilarious and touching tribute. The words Boston Proud, Boston Strong.

When the FBI released the images of Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev on Thursday afternoon, within minutes their faces were plastered across Facebook. A friend shared a photo that a citizen photographer had taken that captured both of thems, crisp, clearer than the ones released by the officials.

Friday morning. I woke up before seven, having tossed and turned a bit. I grabbed my phone, and jumped on Facebook. My alma mater (a Boston college) had a post saying that the college was closed for the day. I learned about the assassination, the shoot out, the ensuing man hunt. The car and license plates. That Dzhokar Tsarnaev was hiding in a boat, on land, in Watertown (and the ensuing ‘I’m on a boat’ jokes). Most importantly, that my friends were okay.

Social media is a powerful, powerful tool, spreading stories of heroism, images of national security, and messages of hope (rather than kids asking for a puppy). Sadly, it took a tragedy to see just how positive, powerful and effective it is.

This is what social media is good for, the rapid sharing of information. People watching out for each other. It was embraced, not only by the common man and journos, but by the police, the feds.

Facebook gets a bad rap. There’s the narcissism, the ill-thought drunken photos, that friend who posts memes left, right and center. The images of the bombers spread quicker than any meme I’ve seen. It’s a positive use, a ‘keep your eye out.’ You can’t run for long when the entire nation knows your face, and as it has been made clear (by, naturally, memes and viral videos) that you don’t mess with Bostonians.

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