Social media is proving to be useful in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing that occurred on Monday and the events that followed including the MIT shooting and shootout in Watertown on Thursday night. Authorities are able to give updates from the area, announce street closures and warnings or instructions to the public. However social media, Twitter in particular, has become an unsubstantiated rumor mill and possible danger to officials on scene and is fueling panic around the country.
FBI and other authorities have been requesting the public’s help asking them to submit pictures or video taken during the marathon through various news outlets and social media. Studying those submissions they were able to post pictures and videos of the suspects.
Following the release of the suspects’ pictures there was a shooting on Thursday at MIT in Cambridge where an officer was shot and killed. This was the instigating event for a massive search of the two suspects that has been going on ever since. One suspect was killed in the shootout in Watertown but the other has continued to evade police.
The search for the second subject has sparked another surge in social media. Officers are releasing information about possible vehicles the suspect may be driving as well as explaining the need for locals to stay inside, closures of local transportation and postponement of events around the city. The Boston Police, FBI Press Release and Massachusetts Police are all using their Twitter accounts for this purpose.
Reports came in of grenades, machine guns and explosions to name a few from the public during the shootout. Several people were live tweeting the events under the hashtag #MITand were including pictures, video and conversations overheard from officers as well as information overheard on police scanners. They were detailing the location of the officers and specifics of their search.
The Boston Police Twitter account began asking the public on Friday to consider the safety of the officers and stop posting information pertinent to the search. “#MediaAlert: WARNING – Do Not Compromise Officer Safety/Tactics by Broadcasting Live Video of Officers While Approaching Search Locations” and “#MediaAlert: WARNING – Do not Compromise Officer Safety by Broadcasting Tactical Positions of Homes Being Searched” were a few of the pleas to stop the spread of information.
Twitter also seems to be the place for ignorant statements. On Tuesday an earthquake measuring 7.8 struck Pakistan. Some responded over Twitter calling it bad karma. “Yesterday Boston was bombed today an earthquake hit Iran coincidence? NO it’s Karma, knowing Iran is the base of terrorism HEHE” was tweeted by @etienHaddad.
On Wednesday night a fertilizer plant in Texas exploded killing 13 and injuring over 200 according to the latest news from ABC. Twitter accounts quickly associated this with the bombing in Boston on Monday and it was repeatedly referred to as another bombing throughout social media.
“Hopefully the bomb wasn’t in the part of Texas where my bro lives” and “Bomb in Texas. Who did the U.S. piss off” with a response “North Korea?” are just a few of the assumptions that followed the explosion. This tragedy is still under investigation but is now being referred to as an explosion and not a bomb by the media and investigators.
The explosion was caught on tape and went viral. It was described as similar to a nuclear explosion and with one of the Boston Marathon runners witnessing the blast it is easy to see how the connection was made.
Closer to home the Cal State LA bomb threat that occurred on Thursday shut down the campus and started the social media chatter. A professor for the campus was contacted via text, email, Facebook and Twitter to verify her safety, warn her of the pending investigation and to inform her the campus had been shut down. Students were afraid and eager to connect it to Boston, Koreans or perhaps someone trying to get out of midterms. The threat was dismissed and faculty, staff and students returned to campus Friday.
Another bomb scare on Thursday was at the Hooters on Hollywood Blvd. That was also declared a false alarm. The man making that joke was arrested.
The false bomb threats continued on Friday at a Del Taco in Fullerton with what appears to be three fake devices and another at a Rite Aid in Beverly Hills. Each threat uses resources and causes business and streets to be closed.
The potential targets for the next false threat or major tragedy are endless and the constant news coverage and social media storm makes it hard to avoid for anyone in the United States. Keep up with the breaking news on social media but be wary of unofficial sources and don’t add to the confusion or panic by announcing unsubstantiated reports or assumptions.