3 Observations: Social Media and the Boston PD #BostonMarathon

Post by: Kim Stephens

Even though the Boston Marathon 2013 bombing event happened less than 24 hours ago at the time of writing, there are already numerous accounts of the role social media played during the horrific aftermath. Here are four great articles:

In an effort not to repeat the good work done by these individuals,  I would like to focus on the use of social networks, particularly Twitter, by the Boston Police Department. I have three main observations, however, I’m sure there are many lessons that can, and most likely will, be teased out of this event.

1. Valuable time does not have to be spent word-smithing updates to social networks; it is more important to get the message out the door as quickly as possible and to make sure your point is clearly understood.

This specific Tweet was ReTweeted (or repeated) almost 8,000 times. Providing straightforward information is especially important if your organization is countering misinformation such as this:

This NY Post update was regarded quite skeptically by the public as evidenced by the number of times is was repeated, only 1,700. Although that seems like a large amount, the difference in the number of ReTweets between this update and the Tweet from BPD is telling: people were leery of the information. In fact, many people challenged the Post by directing messages to them questioning the content. After it was determined that the information was false, some urged them to issue a retraction.

2. In a fast moving situation, it isn’t that difficult to understand how incomplete or incorrect content can get posted. However, if that does happen,  it may be necessary to repeat the correction.

This content was picked up by news organizations, such as Reuters, and the “not certain” was scrubbed out in the process. The Reuters post was ReTweeted by 8,000 of their followers. It was also repeated on broadcast television stations as well.

Boston PD corrected the information in two Tweets:

3. Situational awareness information can often be found from the social accounts of other city agencies or organizations.

Interestingly, the JFK Library posted the all-clear status of the building, but BPD still repeated the possibility of a third incident at the library a full thirty minutes later. However, although thirty minutes seems like a long time during the height of an incident response, in the larger scheme of things, they corrected the information very quickly.

I’m sure in the coming weeks the #SMEM community will find even more lessons and observations, I look forward to learning more about how information was provided to the public and how social networks were monitored during the event. Let me know your thoughts.

10 responses to “3 Observations: Social Media and the Boston PD #BostonMarathon

  1. Pingback: #SMEM Crisis Response – The #bostonmarathon Bombing | buridansblog

  2. In trying to make sense of what accounts were most believable, I personally only spent time on the twitter verified accounts. Having that little blue check mark can make a difference for government agencies. For the agencies that don’t or can’t have a check mark, I really wish good lists of trusted agencies were pre-posted on their twitter accounts. It is a simple event planning step that I will be sure not to miss in the future!

  3. Pingback: 3 Observations: Social Media and the Boston PD ...

  4. Hi Kim. Quick question. Did you find it weird, too, that the spokesperson of the BPD was doing most of the tweeting and now the official BPD-account who just retweeted what she said? Particularly since her Twitter profile pic is just her photo. For me, in the beginning, it was not clear who she was unti I eventually decided to check out her Twitter bio.

    • Honestly, I did find that odd as well. It was also curious to me that they didn’t pick up on the use of the #bostonmarathon hashtag. On the other hand, I hate to play Monday-morning quarterback. However, there is reason why we do lessons learned, so that we can understand what went well, what could have been done differently, and what plans, policies and procedures need to modified.
      Thanks for the comment!

  5. Pingback: Social Media for Good Roundup: Boston Marathon Bombings : Social Media for Good by @timolue

  6. Pingback: “there are already numerous accounts of the role social media played” http://bit.ly/11eXvHr #SMEM #VOST | Kc5fm's Blog

  7. The critical insight into point one has to do with verification.

    The difference between an official Police tweet (BDP) and any news media post, is the first is based on OSOM (One Source, One Message) principle. All messages broadcast, come from a single verified source. News organisations get information second hand, hence the disbelief. [1]

    [0] CFA, Sophie Jackson “‘Awesome web-based messaging system ‘: the community, emergency services and support organisations all get the same information at the same time, from the same source.”

    [1] Unless a reporter is live and on the ground,

  8. Pingback: Social media challenges ‘old’ media in Boston bombings coverage | Public Health Science Communication 2.0

  9. Pingback: 3 Observations: Social Media and the Boston PD #BostonMarathon « UASI – The Urban Area Security Initiatives Blog #UASI

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