A World War II statue in my hometown, which I thought was appropriate for this post.
I was absolutely horrified to learn about the Boston Marathon bombings — especially since I heard about them almost immediately after they happened on Twitter.
Since I manage my company's social media accounts, I spend a good chunk of my workday monitoring Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and posting updates. I was scanning Twitter for articles to retweet when the news of the bombing flooded Twitter. Within an hour, I learned that there were at least 100 people injured, that the wounded were facing amputations and that medics had heroically jumped into action to save lives — all of which was true.
But I also learned that 12 people had been killed, that cell phone service had been shut down so people wouldn't remotely detonate a bomb and that police already had a suspect (a Saudi nationalist) in custody. None of this was true.
At the end of the day, I was both amazed and shocked at the speed news of the bombing traveled on social media and how much false information was spreading. And it wasn't just bystanders at the marathon tweeting the latest updates; The New York Post broke the false report about the suspect in custody, and many news outlets (including a local station here in Utah) also reported it.
So what can we learn from this — and how can we be more thoughtful on social media following tragedies? Here are my three takeaways:
- Be wary when retweeting or posting breaking news during a tragedy. Unfortunately, news outlets are often in such a hurry to post the latest update when disaster strikes that they don't verify facts or think about who they hurt when they publish stories or posts. The easiest way to nip a rumor in the bud is to stop it in its tracks. If you have any doubts about whether something is true, don't post it again.
- Be sensitive to people experiencing pain and take a break from social media. I was impressed yesterday to see many companies posting condolences for those in Boston and then laying low on Facebook and Twitter. Not only does it allow people to get through to each other more quickly online (especially since phone service was unavailable and Twitter was an easy way to confirm that loved ones were safe), it shows respect for those affected by the tragedy.
- Be careful when posting photos and videos of tragedies on social media. One of my Facebook friends wisely pointed out that some of the journalists taking future Pulitzer prize-winning photos of people in shock after the bombings should have grabbed a tourniquet instead. While I am a journalist myself (though I no longer work at a newspaper) and value those who capture moments in history for others to see, snapping photos or videos should never be a priority in an emergency situation — and posting and reposting these images (especially graphic pictures) can show insensitivity and upset others.
Those are just my thoughts about social media. I am continuing to pray for the victims of the bombing — and I am proud of our president for his remarks following the tragedy. We will continue to be strong as a nation and fight against those who bring terror.