November 21, 2014

Boston Locked Down, Businesses Closed, Social Media Scoops All

It’s been a shocking time in the past 12 hours in the Boston area.  In the wake of Monday’s bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon, one police officer is dead and one wounded, and one suspect is dead.   And nearly the entire metropolitan area of Boston is currently in the midst of a giant manhunt for the second suspect (pictured,  inset below) as of 8 am Eastern time.

Boston lock down

Public transportation in the Boston area is shut down, and all colleges are closed. Citizens are being asked to stay in their homes and businesses are being asked to stay closed — at least those in the immediate area of Watertown and surrounds.

And once again, just like in the immediate wake of Monday’s Marathon bombing, ordinary citizens using social media had the scoop on tragic events even before the news media.  Armed with cameras, mobile phones and Internet connections, people in Watertown, Massachusetts were giving gripping minute-by-minute accounts as the events unfolded.  Eventually the news media will catch up, but the value of social media in these situations in warning citizens and sharing important news has been proven.

The latest events started unfolding at around 5 pm yesterday, when the FBI released photographs of two suspects.  Several hours later after a convenience store robbery and a carjacking, a ferocious gun battle was caught on video by a citizen (it was happening outside his house).

Reddit.com in particular was an excellent a source of information on events as they unfolded overnight.  Two threads (including this one) have had ongoing updates, including photographs, police scanner reports, and videos.  There’s even a link to an interactive Google map with locations identified of shootouts and other activities.  The Huffington Post also has had live blog updates with a good collection of images at the bottom of the post.  UPDATE: some have come under fire for spreading incorrect information in the early hours.

Twitter also had coverage, although there were many rumors tweeted that turned out not to be true.  For instance, the names of suspects were inaccurately discussed for hours. Still, a lot of good and valuable information was shared, for those willing to take the time to sift through it.  And you get riveting shots, like this one taken by Shawna England and shared on Twitter, showing police on the roof of a building in her backyard in Watertown at 6 am local time.

The FBI has asked citizens who know anything (“no detail too small”) to provide information by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or visiting bostonmarathontips.fbi.gov.

UPDATE:  It appears that some on social media, while providing great info, also spread some misinformation about some individuals and named them.  And I certainly do not condone the spread of incorrect information that improperly had named individuals.  That part was regrettable.  I’ve updated this post to reflect that sentiment.

SECOND UPDATE: Reddit  came under fire for spreading false identification of suspects, and a moderator apologized.  It appears that the information may not have originated on Reddit, but elsewhere and was repeated on Reddit. There have been a lot of rumors and speculation in the mainstream media and all over the Web.

THIRD UPDATE:  A more balanced semi-defense of Reddit, disagreeing with characterization of those on Reddit as vigilantes. I certainly don’t characterize Reddit as a vigilante community, either.  Some people are being very harsh on Reddit.   Could some of it be driven by traditional media who have bought into rumors before?  The whole reaction-to-Reddit thing is becoming a story all by itself….

Image credit: ABC News

8 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

8 Reactions

  1. It’s been a crazy 18 hours, Robert. And many people in Watertown and parts of Boston are marooned in their homes. I hope it ends soon for them.

    – Anita

  2. Amateur journos on Reddit should stick to playing video games and let real journalists do the heavy lifting.

    • Thanks for your comment, Janet, but on balance I think the Reddit community did an admirable job sourcing a lot of information quickly. As I said, I think it’s regrettable that people were improperly identified as suspects. I don’t want to sound as if I’m praising that part, because I’m not.

      But that happens with media outlets, too. Do you think CNN, New York Times, NBC, CBS and the Wall Street Journal – and the Huffington Post for that matter – have never made a reporting mistake? And have never incorrectly identified someone in a way that embarrassed or caused pain? Of course they have. Doesn’t make it right – but let’s not crucify Reddit for a mistake that others have made.

      – Anita

      • I forgot to add that maybe I’m not as trusting as some. I saw those suspect misidentifications on Twitter and paid absolutely no attention to them until information was verified by law enforcement. I know that lots of rumors and speculation are always reported in the early hours – by all sources.

  3. Hi Anita,
    As a veteran of the traditional newspaper business, I’m frequently amazed at the romanticism some have for traditional journalism in the age of social media. Newspapers and other big media outlets have frequently been wrong and had to issue corrections. And sometimes those corrections would be printed deep inside the paper despite the fact that a mistake was made on page one. Yes, in some cases stories are more thoroughly researched in traditional media, but what can be reported is more tightly controlled too. I think it’s more important to see the pros and cons of both kinds of reporting rather than demonizing one and putting the other on an unrealistic pedestal.

    • Well, Shawn, it’s interesting, that people expect Reddit to report verified information. I actually don’t think that’s the role of social media. Social media is there to pull together bits and pieces, and you know what? Some of that will be wrong and pure speculation. Things were happening too fast to verify anything, and that’s not their role anyway.

      The ones I question are those who believe everything they see on Twitter or that some unnamed person on Reddit suggests. When some of it on its face was wacky and simply incredible. Don’t they know speculation and rumor abounds?

      It’s raw information, some good some bad. And that’s all. But in the early hours Twitter and Reddit did a better job of getting bits and pieces of information to the public, than anyone else. For that (and not the mis-IDing part) it was invaluable.

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