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Twitter, Google Key Communications Channels After Marathon Bombing

The tragic Boston Marathon bombing Monday again highlighted the power of Twitter and other social media.  Social media became key communication channels as the tragedy unfolded and people flocked to understand what was going on and find out about loved ones.

Marathon bombing image [1]

Twitter Broke the Story on the Marathon Bombing

Twitter users shared the first posts and photos on the marathon bombing before traditional media could react [2].  The first reports were shared with the world by eyewitnesses via Twitter.

Minutes later, the Boston Globe made its first tweet [5] – even before posting anything on its website. Twitter users quickly started disseminating details including number of injuries and even raw video [6].  Traditional media struggled to keep up.

The tragedy also helped demonstrate the value of the Twitter hashtag. One of these, #BostonMarathon [8], was the highest trending topic on Twitter much of the day. It started as a hashtag simply used to follow the day’s race news.  Later, it became the main channel for breaking news of the disaster as it happened. Another hashtag #prayforboston [9] also became a place to share news and reflections about the day’s tragedy.

Twitter, while sometimes enabling the spread of rumors that inevitably occur immediately after a tragedy, also helped dispel rumors.  For instance, one report held that cell phone networks in Boston had been shut down supposedly to prevent remote detonation of additional bombs.  That report appeared later to be false — it was just a temporary overload.   ATT [10] and Verizon [11] representatives used Twitter to reassure customers their cell phone networks were still operational, and remind people to text their messages to free up voice capacity in the network.

Google, Facebook and YouTube Also Assist

Google set up a Person Finder [12]  to help people look for loved ones after the blast.



People also used Facebook to check on friends and loved ones at the scene of the tragedy. Those who were there signed into their accounts to post they were OK so that friends and family could breathe a sigh of relief.  One commentator called it the “Facebook huddle [13].”

YouTube set up a page dedicated to aggregating video on the explosions and related issues in YouTube Spotlight. The page, at last count, had more than four million subscribers.

Social media was used to share other important details including hotlines and emergency information [14], too.

It all serves as a reminder:  in a breaking situation or public tragedy, turn to Twitter and other social media for on-the-scene reports and to learn where to find more.



Image credit: ABC news coverage