Boston Marathon Bombing: Importance of Twitter in a Crisis

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Boston Marathon Bombing: Importance of Twitter in a Crisis
By Jessica O’Shea
Posted date: April 23, 2013;

Through the smoke billowing out from the two explosions and amidst the screams of those injured and scared, a modern tool stepped up in the chaos to bring needed information and a semblance of order during the horrific attack Monday, April 15 on the Boston Marathon. Twitter, the modern-day ally who aided so much in the reporting of Tunisia and the Middle East rebellions, once again provided a forum for all those seeking to find and put out information in second-by-second updates.

The bombs went off at 3 p.m. along Boylston Street, Boston, as seen here on this graphic created by The New York Times, about an hour and a half after the first runners of the Boston Marathon crossed the finish line. Pictures, videos, and tweets were almost immediately posted online as Boston Police and other officials directed the uninjured to evacuation routes, and medical personnel rushed into the smoke, broken glass, and blood.

Photographers, news stations, and friends and family members of the runners all held cell phone cameras to record what should have been a wonderful moment of accomplishment, with many snapping photos in the otherwise clear afternoon light. Though the pictures and videos rapidly turned grim, reporters and authorities were quick to utilize the advantage these recordings provided. The Boston Police department’s twitter page put up a tweets such as that an explosion did indeed occur, and kept updating the page with information on what citizens of Boston were expected to do.

As more and more images went up, police were able to have before and after pictures of the finish line and of at least one of the bomb sites. Any possible way investigators can piece together what happened is crucial.

The ability to use Twitter also allowed civilians, both those caught in the attack and those with friends or family in the area, to reassure one another of their locations and safety, even though authorities, to prevent any remote detonations, shut down cell phone service in the Boston area. Through texting, Twitter, and Facebook, people were able to find their loved ones, and find information on where to go or how to help.

Many other sites and organizations used Twitter as a posting board, putting up links to other sources of information and aid. Google put up a reminder about their Google Person Finder program, a system that allows you to enter in a person’s name or information and uses it much like a status, searching their database and others like it for matching or related information. This allows people to help one another find their loved ones during times when phones are disabled.

The Red Cross used Twitter to inform the public that they, at that time, did have enough donated blood to meet the demand. This was important to get out, as some of the runners who were not injured by the blasts headed towards the nearest hospital with the goal to give blood. The extra people milling about the emergency rooms and lobbies were an unneeded distraction with the hundreds of victims being rushed in.

News reporters and even the White House used the social media to update the American people on what was being done and when to expect more information. At 6:00 p.m. that day, three hours after the first explosion, the official White House twitter page announced when President Obama would address the nation.

What all this boils down to is that in our age of the Internet, information can be updated again and again as new facts and new events are happening, even in the middle of a confusing and shocking crisis. In this way, officials can get out necessary information, can utilize the eyes and experiences of witnesses, and people can find their loved ones in an amazingly short time. For all the bad talk that this generation of technology gets, its uses in times of trouble are many and, as this event shows, are rapidly becoming invaluable.