Social Media in the Aftermath of Tragedy

Boston Magazine cover Last week, after terrible tragedy hit Boston we saw strangers band together on social media. Hashtags like #BostonStrong and #BostonBrave were quickly created to help spread awareness and encouragement to victims and their families. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook quickly became news sources pushing out information about the situation. As someone with many close friends in Boston, I can tell you this was both a blessing and a curse. Although there were many positive aspects of social media during this attack, there were many downfalls. The Boston Bombing was the first major attack on US soil in the age of smart phones and social media, and we have a lot to learn about effective social media protocol.

On Monday April 15th, I got an email from a friend who lives in Boston saying, “ Did you hear there were two explosions at the Boston Marathon?” I hadn’t and I quickly turned to the fastest news source I could think of – Twitter.  I was soon overwhelmed with a wealth of information; some of it was true, some rumors. I wanted answers, and I wanted them now. I found myself trying to cross-reference with and became frustrated that they weren’t updating as quickly. I was reminded that news coverage isn’t instantaneous, and that real news must be verified before it can be published. But, in this age of instant gratification, I wasn’t satisfied.

Although I am grateful that social media exists in times of tragedy, precedence needs to be set for proper etiquette. In the days that followed the bombings, things on social media got out of hand. After the FBI released photos of the suspects, everyday people became detectives and journalists. The public craved answers, and they would search until they found them. One of the most devastating rumors that came out of Twitter was the accusation that missing Brown University student, Sunil Tripathi was the younger suspect. As we now know, he is not one of the suspects. In fact, his body was found earlier this week, which marks a terrible end to this tragic miscommunication. Now his family not only has to deal with the loss of their son, but his defamation.

Social media and smart phones allow the public to be a part of something bigger than themselves. In many ways this allows amazing things to happen like people offering their homes to displaced marathon victims, but it can also have negative affects. We can learn a lot from recent events, particularly that although we might crave them, the right answers aren’t instantaneous. We can also learn that sometimes, it is best to not jump to a public conclusion. We have come a long way to go in terms of how our news and media handle tragedy. I am confidant, however, that this incidence will only help to push us forward.

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