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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Boston Marathon Calamity Shows Value of Social Media

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It might be no surprise that immediately after the explosions at today’s Boston Marathon, social media sites became the best way for the public to obtain on-the-scene reports. But notably, it also became the best way for classic news media to report. Even more than that, the long minutes after the news broke showed just how superior social media is for finding answers to your own personal concerns.

Here are some examples—there are many more—that arose within a few hours of the blasts:

Scientific American contributor, David Dobbs, who lives in Vermont, was re-tweeting Twitter posts from his son, @taylordobbs, who was very close to the explosion. Taylor was also posting Twitter pics and when ABC News saw them, a reporter asked Taylor, via Twitter, if ABC could use the photos in its news reports. Taylor said yes, as long as ABC properly credited him.

On the Twitter feed #bostonmarathon, people were factchecking news flashes and debunking false information almost in real time.

The Web site Reddit maintained a thread that aggregated a wide variety of information sources much faster than any media organization.

And Wikipedia started a page called Boston Marathon Explosion that contributors across the area and beyond were updating continuously.

The Boston Athletic Association had a site where fans could check the split times of every runner, which instantly became a way to see if individuals crossed the finish line—meaning, if they did not, they might have been injured by the explosions.

Perhaps most impressively, Google quickly created a Person Finder site that allowed people to post the name of a friend or family member they were desperately looking for, and which allowed people to post information about someone they had found.

On the bottom half of the page, Google added a note that read: “All data entered will be available to the public and viewable and usable by anyone.” That pretty much sums it up.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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