Social media has become the new “it” thing for our generation. While it was created to allow the public to voice their opinions, it has be said that social media is being taken too far. This influx of social media as part of our daily lives has created problems, especially in disaster situations.
A recent major problem associated with this was the Boston Marathon bombings. Twitter and Facebook allowed everyone to get involved quickly. From the second the bombs went off, the American public was quick to post what they thought had happened. However, a number of problems arose from this. Without information, people posted that there were four bombs instead of two, that the death count was much higher, and that a library had been targeted. There were also posts that started naming people as potential bombers based on little or no evidence. This led to the New York Post posting a cover shot of 2 men who were the “prime suspects” when really, neither men were suspects.
The Boston Marathon Bombings allowed social media to be so problematic because there were thousands of people at the marathon, most of whom had smart phones. That meant that the amount of data available to the public was too much to ignore. Once information got to the Internet, everyone wanted a chance to play the game of “who is the Boston Marathon Bomber?”
The false information and tips released on the Internet created widespread panic. However, others argue that the access to social media allowed the public to stay informed faster than they would have through cable TV alone. For example, when the Boston Police Department engaged in a gunfight with the two brothers in Massachusetts, people were able to watch live streams of police scanners and read others’ ideas from Reddit and Twitter.
While the availability of social media may be good at keeping the public informed during disaster situations, there needs to be a closer watch on what information is released during disasters. Although it is difficult to monitor social media sites, there should be someone (or a group of people) hired to make sure that the information released is correct. While we were lucky that the false information on social media during the Boston Marathon Bombing did not have long-term negative effects, this may not be the case in the future. It is important to have tabs kept on social media so that the next disaster is not even more problematic.
Read more about The Boston Marathon’s social media response here.