The Boston Marathon Bombings: How Social Media Played a Role

Almost a year ago, on April 15, 2013, two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon, killing 3 and wounding more than 200 people. Almost immediately after the IEDs detonated, the story began to unfold on every social media network. Social media, although a supplier of quick information, can also be a source of inaccurate information. Thus, allowing for rumors to spread exponentially.

A recent study, titled “Rumors, False Flags, and Digital Vigilantes: Misinformation on Twitter after the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing“, demonstrated that although previous studies suggested that crowd sourced information can correct misinformation; this is not always the case. This study was focused on the use of Twitter during the Boston Marathon bombings, and the misinformation that was spread through it.

This study examines three main rumors, later demonstrated to be false, that circulated and spread rapidly through the use of Twitter. The findings of this research suggest that although corrections to the misinformation did eventually emerge, they had far less of an impact than the propagation of the misinformation.  However, this research is still in its preliminary stages and more studies need to be done to further understand the spread of rumors through social media networks.

More articles about the Boston Marathon Bombings and the lessons learned from it are housed in the HSDL.  The following is a sampling of HSDL resources on this topic:

Lessons from Boston” (2013) New England Journal of Medicine.

Lessons Learned from the Boston Marathon Bombings: Preparing for and Responding to the Attack”   U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon” (2013) START [National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism]

Who Did You Call Following the Boston Marathon Bombing?”  United States Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology

Boston Marathon Bombings: The Positive Effects of Planning and Preparation on Response” 2013 FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)

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