Impact of Technology and Social Media and the Boston Marathon Bombings

Posted by on May 9th, 2013

I love Boston.  I have lived in and around Boston for the majority of my life, and on April 15, 2013, my world and my beloved Boston changed forever.  That is the day of the Boston Marathon Bombings that killed four people and wounded hundreds. Bombings and Boston, two words that I never imagined I would put together in a sentence. It was always, “Oh, bombings, they happen in London, Madrid, Bali, or even New York.”  Not my Boston.

In the years since 9/11, technology has changed dramatically; the majority of us have SmartPhones, there are over 500 million registered Twitter followers and 800 million active Facebook users. We speak and support causes with #s and @ symbols. Social media has drastically changed the way we communicate and played a strong part in keeping residents of Boston and Massachusetts connected especially when residents of cities in Cambridge, Arlington, Boston and especially Watertown, where the manhunt was concentrated, were asked to “shelter-in-place”.

I have never seen the city so empty, so completely shut down – no subways, no taxis, no schools, no Amtrak, people didn’t go to work. I even heard of people being followed and questioned by the police because they were jogging, and could have been the second suspect.

Social media played a constant role in the investigation and pursuit of the suspects and in the news — from one of the suspects Tweeting on the run, to YouTube clips of the bombings from civilians.  As most of my own Facebook friends are Bostonians or from Massachusetts, for me it also acted as a method of knowing my friends were safe. A good friend of mine lives in Watertown and the SWAT team ‘cleared’ her house twice on the day of the manhunt.  And, I knew exactly what was happening with her and that she was safe through her Facebook posts. Thank goodness.

In a FOX News article it was stated, “That there is a significant social media footprint on the bombings that is providing new leads to investigators. More than 30,000 social media messages were collected within a one-mile radius of the finish line in the 48-hour period surrounding the explosions – with Twitter and Facebook lighting up after the attack. The social media generated what are called link analysis charts – which showed the relationships between social media messages that met investigative criteria. Investigators are especially interested in messages that seemed out of place or coded,” sources told Fox News.

The F.B.I.’s Boston field office initiated the unprecedented crowd-sourcing manhunt by urging the public to look at the pictures and video on the F.B.I.’s Web site, fbi.gov. I went to the FBI site; I shared as many photos of the suspects as I could.  I posted FB updates on the halted subway and taxi services, and as much info to get these bombers via my own social media outlets. In fact, the FBI website crashed long after releasing photos of the suspects on the suspect, presumably, it went down as a result of a surge of traffic.

The most important way I saw social media used through these events was as a source of solidarity and comfort was through the hash tag #BostonStrong that was posted all over Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  This simple but powerful hashtag helped bring a city, state and a county together to offer help and support in the face of this tragedy.  Social media allowed local residents to reach out the first responders to give them praise and thanks for an unbelievable job done.  Also, social media was one the vehicles used to raise money for The One Fund that will benefit victims and their families.  An interesting and incredible fact is that The One Fund was created just seven hours after the bombings occurred, and The One Fund Boston raised more than $7 million in just 24 hours, and to date the total amount donated has grown to $29,275,444.

Unfortunately, the Boston Marathon Bombings were not stopped in time, but social media played a significant role in distributing vital information and keeping spirits supported in a time of shock and disbelief.  I hope no one ever needs to rely on social media for a similar reason, but with the exponential growth of technology and social media, I hope social media can help prevent any further disasters.  #BostonStrong