Social Media Explosions: A Look At The Good & The Bad!

By on April 18, 2013

Social media is becoming an increasingly important tool in the crowdsourcing and reporting of accurate news, as it happens. We’ve seen this recently with the tragic Boston marathon bombings, and now again with the fertilizer plant explosion today in Texas. What role is social media taking on, and will it make for 3 dimensional news reporting? Let’s investigate.


The Boston Bombing Recapped on Social

Breaking news. When you hear this on television, it usually means something big has happened – something that affects everyone. Social media has been become the fastest, most convenient way to get news, as it is happening. From terrorist attacks, to school shootings, this was proven just days ago once again – when the bombs went off in Boston.

It was a day like any other in Boston, except there was a large marathon snaking through the streets. An Ethiopian runner, Lelisa Desisa Benti, won the race at about 12pm. A couple hours later, as crowds still milled around the Boston streets, there was an explosion. The first social media tweet was posted at 2:50, by Dan Lampariello.

About a minute later, tweets start to add up on Twitter – there’s been some kind of explosion in Boston. There were people tweeting about seeing smoke, smelling smoke – witnessing people fleeing the course. Then the emergency services arrived, and it became clear that this was no accident, or small explosion.

As the Twitter news spreads, it reaches Reuters, sports stations and other breaking news Twitter accounts. In the beginning, the social media reports stated that it was a possible transformer that exploded. No-one knew the injuries to the people at the finish line were so severe. Some 4 minutes later, photos of significantly injured people hit the net.

The numbers began to rise – first it was 20-30 people injured, then 50-60. News outlets all over the world began to report on this tragedy. But it wasn’t the reporters doing the reporting – it was the everyday citizen – the people that were there, using social media. This is how they worked together to get accurate news to the people, and to help those that needed it.

• A Twitter hashtag (#PrayForBoston) began to trend
• The news networks continued with regular programming, so social media took over
• People were on Facebook and Twitter chatting to each other
• Thousands of people offered help to Boston residents in need
• Google Person Finder was activated, to help residents find family and friends
• The Boston Police and Emergency Services tweeted updates


The Google Person Finder

Google Person Finder is a web-based application made by Google, that allows people to search for friends and family when a disaster has struck. It’s a great way to find lost souls amidst the chaos, when a real disaster has taken place.

If you’ve never seen it – check it out here: http://google.org/personfinder/global/home.html

While it’s closed now for use, this social media app helped reconnect families in the wake of the Boston marathon disaster. Google is offering a real service to people in need. Perhaps more services like these will arise in the future, cutting out the need to speak to emergency personnel or police services. If they do, it will help individuals recover faster, and spare them the worry of not knowing what has happened to their loved ones.


The Horrors of Twitter Vine and PTSD

Twitter Vine is the new 6 second looping video app that has become an instant hit on the social network recently. But on Monday, the world saw horrific images on Vine, as bystanders filmed injured people, dying people, explosions and graphic imagery. These social media Vines played over and over to millions of Twitter users this week.

The intentions were clear – The Boston bombing was meant to attract this kind of grotesque media attention, not from the media, but from the everyday man. Those that weren’t killed or injured, became historians for the fate of their fellow spectators. This is a massive concern for citizens, in more ways than one.

• Reports of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) are increasing, as people are being exposed to horrific live events. Sometimes they even become the unwilling photographer in a panic situation.

• Terrorists know that lives events are good targets, as the news stations can’t censor social media sites like Twitter. This makes all crowded live events targets for terror.

• Terror swept through America at high speed, making social media an effective platforms for spreading chaos, fear and discord among people.

• The media is prevented from leaving out certain aspects of the bombing, that may lead to arrests or could be important in their investigations. Everything becomes public knowledge which means terrorists are always informed.

These troubling trends are proving that social media – while it is an obvious blessing in times of trouble – is also a terrible tool for fear that terrorists can and will use against US citizens. There is no regulation, the public gets to see it all. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.


The Fertilizer Plant Explosion

There has been a second disaster – the fertilizer plant explosion in Waco, Texas just yesterday. The explosion was so large it rained flames and shrapnel down on the residents of the area, some miles away. So far, 100 people have been injured, but there are no confirmed dead yet. Some reports say as many as 60 people have died.

The news outlets aren’t reporting anything about a terrorist attack – they are calling it an accident for now. Again, residents and the media have used social media to bring this tragedy to the world. According to Twitter, 200 people are injured, and 100 homes and businesses completely destroyed.


Social Media and These Rising Disasters

It seems to me that social media is becoming a very complex problem for authorities and even for us as users of the technology. It’s a double edged sword. With all the benefits we get from social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, we are also starting to experience the downside of instant news and widespread chaos.

It has become second nature for 16 year olds to stand photographing carnage as people all around them are dying in a horrific explosion. Terrorist messages are being received loud and clear, nearly instantly – and our authorities need to do something about it.

In the wake of the Boston marathon bombings and Texas fertilizer plant explosion, how do you think social media needs to be correctly monitored?

About John Souza

John Souza is founder and chief strategist of SMMU and Social Media Impact, and is a bestselling business author. He won the 2011 Tech Marketing Awards ‘Social Media Marketer of the Year’ and most recently the About.com Reader’s Choice Award for Best Online Education Site. John has appeared on The Michael Gerber Show, and his business has been honored at the Mashable Awards, Forbes Business Awards and The Stevie Awards.
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