This is the second post in a two part series chronicling the recent Boston Marathon bombings and the role of social media in its aftermath. The first entry focused on ArchiveSocial’s intern’s experience at the Boston Marathon. The second will focus on social media’s larger role in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
“I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in,” famously said Bill Gates. When considering last week’s tragedy in Boston, Gates’ sentiments rang true. Mere minutes after two explosions rocks Boylston Street, social media spread the news almost instantly. But importantly, communication isn’t just about the speed at which information is transmitted. Effective and meaningful communication is largely determined by the quality of information being shared. And, importantly, in the immediate hours after the explosions, social media played a key role in enhancing communication by improving the quality of information being shared.
Communicating without social media
The likes of Twitter and Facebook allowed the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) to communicate with racers and citizens directly. The B.A.A., after having to suspend the race finish, needed to relocate the bag pickup and family meeting areas, while determining the fate of the post-race party for thousands of runners. Typically, such logistical information would unlikely to be broadcast on traditional media like radio and TV. And to communicate this information via-volunteer would be nearly impossible, with the key facts most likely being obscured by their retelling. The reach and verity would have been severely handicapped, creating a logistical nightmare for racers and race organizers.
Enhancing communication through social media
Facebook and Twitter remedied this. The B.A.A. communicated where the thousands of runners could pick up their bags and then later meet up with their families. The information was delivered directly from the race organizers to an audience in the hundreds of thousands in a simple and quick manner. There was no opportunity to obscure the updates via secondary sources. There was no confusion or doubt about these announcements. And importantly, the B.A.A., racers, and families could then focus on ensuring the safety in the wake of the mass confusion immediately following the tragedy.
Additionally, the Boston Police Department used Twitter to communicate with citizens immediately following the attacks. Like the B.A.A., the Boston Police Department was able to communicate directly and succinctly with hundreds of thousands of people. If we learned anything in the past week, it was that breaking news isn’t always accurate. So, being able to receive updates from the Boston Police Department about street closings and help lines directly meant that citizens were better informed.
So, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, social media played a role of enhancing communication between race officials, safety officers, citizens, and runners. And, just as Bill Gates argued, these communications had profound effects on how people (and organizations) learned from each other as well as on how people achieved freedom from uncertainty and worry.