Social media and the Boston Marathon manhunt


Emerging technological advancements of today’s world have allowed the public to take more of an active role in news production. The recent incident of the Boston Marathon  bombings and manhunt triggered an overwhelming response from social media users. The Boston police turned to Twitter to ask for the public’s help with the manhunt. They received helpful information regarding the case. Unfortunately, however, audience participation on Twitter caused many distractions. Director of Catchfire Media, Katie Miller-Smith commented:

Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston.(AP Photo)
Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston. (AP Photo)

We’re seeing individuals consistently Instagram photos of the Humvees that are outside their homes, and they’re really showing those locations, so it’s a double-edged sword.

While times are changing, we will always see this type of process unfold publicly on the Internet. There is only one way to avoid being sucked in by all the misinformation.

It’s important, I think, with anyone, to keep a very critical eye and to pay the most attention to strong media outlets.

When the FBI asked for assistance from the public in the manhunt for the suspects of the Boston bombing, thousands of videos, photos and information spread quickly. However, some experts are saying that the instant communication via social media could interfere with the investigation by actually helping the suspects whom the police are trying to capture. According to Julia Boorstin at CNBC:

The Boston PD is urging people not to tweet details of which homes are being searched, as that might compromise their efforts.

In addition, authorities have asked citizens to stop tweeting updates from Boston police scanners. Thousands of people have listened to the events play out over the police radio airwaves. On Friday morning, the Boston police and FBI requested that the media and the public stop broadcasting scanner traffic.

In contrast with previous examples, user-generated content can also have a positive effect on news publication. Because of social media, the public has the ability to follow instant updates of eyewitnesses to important events that generates a stronger interest. People feel more involved and able to contribute, said communications professor Alex Sevigny to CTV News:

Here, it was friends and neighbours sharing their grief, their shock, their fear, finding one another on Twitter, but finding one another in a very public fashion. That’s exactly what would happen if you were actually there on the ground.

What Twitter did in particular, is it made it very immediate. It also made it very present and the crowdsourcing and the investigation afterwards, the manhunt, intensified that.

Social media is an important tool that is here to stay. However, because news is now in the hands of everyone with a smartphone or laptop, it is potentially less accurate. It is the news consumer’s responsibility to sort out all the information in order to verify what is legitimate, says Emily Banks at

I still believe we can trust legacy institutions to provide us with the truth — most of the time. Still, we need to be smart media consumers by remembering that even the trusted institutions get stories wrong. And, as journalists, there’s more than one side to a story, more than one truth. We must use the technologies at our disposal to determine which ones are accurate, and all social media users, including both content curators and content creators, must remember: If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.

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