You’ve probably heard it all by now, but on Monday afternoon, two explosions went off at the Boston Marathon, killing two and leaving twelve injured. As of the time of this blog posting, the culprit remains unknown, but one thing is certain: social media played a role in this tragedy like never before. Amid all the chaos and confusion, people across the country reached out through social media grasping for answers. They were looking for some modicum of understanding, and most importantly, to find their loved ones, hoping they were not counted among the dead.
It stands as a testament to the unifying human spirit that the #PrayForBoston hashtag became the top Twitter trend since the fatal attack. Even in this age of iPhones and Facebook, you can still rely on humanity to come together in any way that they can to express a common sorrow. And what better way to do this than through social media? I recall yesterday, sitting in class and finding out about the explosions. I immediately stopped what I was doing and messaged my friends who I knew were close to the explosions in order to make sure that they were safe. Thankfully, they were not hurt. But I can imagine the worry that would have plagued me had I not had a way to communicate with them instantaneously.
And even so, Bostonians frantically signed into their Facebook accounts to update their statuses declaring that they were not hurt – or messaging loved ones to let them know just that – or even just commenting on the situation before news stations even announced what happened. In this way, the American public was able to become aware of this tragedy before it was officially confirmed to have happened.
This tragedy has certainly proven to be a game-changer in solidifying our understanding of the way news is spread these days. Active social media users and social media agencies could potentially become amateur news reporters as events happen day-to-day, updating Facebook or Twitter for the benefit of the public. Even the Boston Police Department has now been periodically updating its Twitter account to announce the latest developments in the investigation. They have urged witnesses to provide any pictures or videos taken at the scene of the crime to assist in the investigation. This raises questions as to how investigations might be conducted in future, with any citizen becoming the eyes and ears for your local police department.
What was even more remarkable was people’s use of Google Person Finder. Launched in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, on Monday the application helped Americans across the country to find out if their loved ones were safe when it was used by various Bostonians to let people know their situation. Give this device a few years, and we might be able to locate anyone we would like to with just a few clicks on the keyboard. And during a crisis such as yesterday’s tragedy, this device will prove invaluable. Even Google Drive provided help with a cloud-based file storage system that generated a list of thousands of names and addresses and phone numbers of those offering aid for those that were affected by the bombings.
Social media is all about bringing people together in ways that you never thought possible without it. If anything, this crisis has shown just how strong humanity and compassion are in these troubling times. The culprits responsible for this disaster weren’t counting on America’s sheer ability to endure and weather any storm that they are confronted with.
And in what better city to prove this than in Boston, one of our nation’s oldest and most historic cities? With nearly four hundred years of history behind it, Boston, along with the entire country, has utilized new social media technology to overcome and join together in the face of fear, just as we will continue to do for years to come.