Posted on: April 24, 2013
Last week was rough, to say the least. Across the country, people tuned into the news like never before and attempted to keep up with the ever-changing routes of speculation surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday.
It quickly became apparent that social media would play into this story—after all Twitter broke the story, and reporters and journalists were quoting Tweets as reliable sources of information. In the new age of social media the event exemplified the role Twitter has in a time of crisis.
Within minutes a hashtag had been created, #bostonmarathon, for people to track the latest updates, and reporters began using it as a way to refute false stories and to give the public news as it happened. Within 30 minutes, support began pouring in from around the country and world using #prayforboston.
Within a few hours Twitter began to fill with nods to random acts of kindness. Bostonians were offering meals to runners and opening their homes to strangers, and humanity was shown through posts using the #bostonhelp hashtag. Restaurants offered free meals and hotels offered free stays—Brooklyn Academy of the Arts displayed their love for Boston, projecting a Martin Luther King quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that,” on the side of a campus building.
Newscasters everywhere began to ask people to not call each other, but rather to text, update a Facebook status or even Tweet their loved ones to let them know they were OK. Law enforcement also embraced social media, asking for people to send any and all images they had from the finish line via text, Facebook and Tweet as a way to gather evidence.
This support continued well into Tuesday when the Chicago Tribune posted an advertisement bringing the two cities together; various states also showed their support by creating banners and images to convey a united front of love and support for the Boston community.
Even the longstanding rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees ceased to exist when the Yankees announced via Twitter that they had put up a sign on their stadium stating, “United We Stand,” with the Yankees and Red Sox emblem on either side. They continued to honor Boston on Tuesday night with a moment of silence, and by playing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” at the end of the third, an honored tradition at Fenway Park.
Over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday law enforcement asked for any and all videos from the Boston Marathon and the images poured in, resulting in the Thursday release of images of brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, named as the two prime suspects in the Monday bombing.
The hashtag to emerge next was #manhunt, and was used as a way to track the developing news. By Thursday night, the suspects had not only been identified, but were involved in a shoot-out with police. The shoot-out resulted in the death of one of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
The pursuit of his younger brother lasted well into Friday, and he was found minutes after it was announced that all search efforts had come up dry. He was located on a boat in Watertown, a suburb of Boston. I had deliberately tried to not get involved in the conversation and only Tweet occasionally on the topic, but by Friday night I couldn’t resist.
I was intrigued by the constant flow of information. One of the people I followed Tweeted, “I’m following this #manhunt via TV, Twitter on my phone and my iPad,” and another follower replied, “Can’t refresh fast enough!” I was in the same position, but what struck me was that the news was falling behind. They were reporting news that was now old news—Twitter had already told me the ‘news’ minutes before.
I had friends listening to the police scanner and a whole minute and a half before the news channel announced the capture of Tsarnaev I had read multiple Tweets about the eruption of cheers from the crowd gathered on scene and the beaming grins of the Boston police and FBI teams on site.
Is this the new order of breaking news? Social media, then TV, then print? I literally sat on the couch and thought, this changes everything. While we still don’t know what the long-term affect will be from all of this—there have been some very negative responses to the ‘social media manhunt’—I do believe that it is safe to say the people have spoken on how they want to receive new information.