I’m a fan of Twitter but not blind to its abuses. And Friday’s Boston Marathon bomber manhunt, which had my hometown locked down for more than 12 hours on Friday, brought out the best and worst of the social media network — or more accurately — its users. I would argue here though, as bad as those abuses were, the thought of no access to the network would have made this whole ordeal, as bad as it is, much worse.
As is usually the case when a terrorist act occurs, racist assumptions surfaced on Twitter and so did near-immediate blowback.
In between the updates and helpful links are the inevitable ignorant racist statements. #idiots #Watertown—
Anouk Vonne (@VelvetWallpaper) April 19, 2013
There were fake Twitter accounts of the suspects and perhaps even a real account. But not to be lost in all that was that actual useful information was brought to the fore.
4:00 PM #MBTA UPDATE: Service on ALL MODES remains SUSPENDED. Please continue to check this account and MBTA.com.—
MBTA (@mbtaGM) April 19, 2013
The local TV and radio outlets put out as much or possibly more misinformation than the Twitterati, although I’m not sure how such a thing could be measured. The beauty of Twitter is the near immediate feedback loop it provides. If you tweet something egregiously wrong, you’ll be called on it. Very publicly. When the N.Y. Post reported incorrect information after the Boston Marathon bombings, it let its story stand.
Twitter as escape valve
When you’re told not to leave your house, sooner or later you’re going to want to leave your house. The fact that there is an interactive online communications channel helped keep isolated folks engaged in what was happening and prevented the onset of complete cabin fever. If you rely on social media networks, you have to consider the source. But having said that, Twitter at least allows crowd-sourced rebuttals of falsehoods and correction of mistakes.
We apologize for the confusion. Wrong model of Honda. Suspects were in Civic, not CRV. Sorry, it has been a fast-moving day.—
MASS STATE POLICE (@MassStatePolice) April 19, 2013
And, not to state the obvious, it provides a lifeline connecting the shut-ins with the rest of humanity — for better or worse.
This manhunt is to social media as the OJ chase was to cable news. This will be viewed as a revolution #manhunt. #watertown #bostonbombing—
Chris Bradley (@ChrisBradley81) April 19, 2013
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user The Paperclip
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