Yesterday was a scary, sad day for us Bostonians. Two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line, and two were left undetonated in the area. Three people have died, and about 150 wounded. It was a tragedy.
As a born-and-raised New Yorker, my mind immediately flashed back to 9/11, and that same panicked feeling set in. I called my husband to make sure he hadn’t gone downtown, and then emailed our immediate family to let them know we were both safe at work. And then I went to Twitter to see the latest updates.
Twitter has long-since replaced CNN and the major news broadcasts as the most immediate news source. CNN was reporting things that were reveal on Twitter a half hour earlier. For the most part, people were simply sharing the news, sending messages of hope and prayer, and giving the victims and Bostonians their support. But there were things I saw on Twitter throughout the day that were downright horrible.
Here’s what you should NEVER EVER post on social media during a time of crisis, including terrorist attacks.
1. Gruesome pictures of the victims
To show the pictures of blood on the sidewalk is one thing. I think it’s borderline inappropriate, but yes, it helps show the gravity of the situation. But it’s entirely different to show a picture of a man with his legs blown off. Or women lying on the sidewalk in pools of blood, also with lost limbs. Or someone’s leg lying in the street. People were posting and retweeting these images all throughout the day, often with no warning as to the graphic nature of the photos. But forget caring about traumatizing the viewer — what about those poor, poor victims? I’m sure right now all they care about is getting better, but eventually, they’re going to know that the most horrific and vulnerable moments of their lives were flying around the internet for all to see. It’s just disrespectful.
Days like yesterday make me grateful that social media didn’t exist yet for 9/11.
2. Unverified facts
By unverified facts, I mean the kind of thing you hear from your panicked coworkers in the office, or something you overhear someone shouting on the street. Don’t just run to Twitter and post it with a tone of authority unless you see that an accredited news source has verified the information. When people take to Twitter to learn the latest updates, suddenly every tweet is taken as a reliable news source (which is a mistake itself), and could be retweeted and spread. At some point around 5-6pm yesterday, people were tweeting that 12 people had been killed. In actuality, only two had been killed at the time. When you live in the victimized city, and you know coworkers who were near the event site, 12 is a huge number. It’s a hell of a lot bigger than 2. So don’t tweet something you’re not sure is true. You’ll just upset people more than is necessary.
3. Assumptions about the guilty parties
After 9/11, people jump to conclusions about who’s guilty for acts of terror. And people were flocking to Twitter to share derogatory tweets. This really doesn’t help anyone. Officials seem to have no idea yet who did it, and are even leaning toward it being domestic terrorism. News flash: you don’t need to be a Muslim to be a terrorist.
On a side note, people were also getting sensitive about people calling the attack a “terrorist attack.” They implied that calling it a “terrorist attack” means making assumptions about who’s guilty. I get the sensitivity, as I mentioned already. But a terrorist attack is any action that inspires terror in a group of people. If two bombs go off on a crowded city street, and it causes harm, death, and panic, it’s a terrorist attack, no matter who was behind it.
4. Posting RT and share bait
I’m pretty sure people had already photoshopped heartfelt messages onto photos of Boston before the smoke even cleared. And that’s all fine and well — but too many people were using the event as a ploy to get more followers and retweets. Posting a picture of a bloody street with the message “Share this photo if you love Boston!” is wrong on so many levels, but it also clutters the stream of legitimate news and updates. People looking online to see whether or not they’re going to be able to take the train home really don’t want to see your share-bait.
While these things were all hard to see yesterday, there were some really inspiring moments on social media as well, when Bostonians and others came together to support each other. There was a massive Google Doc where Bostonians were offering up their homes to people who wouldn’t be able to get to their own homes or hotels that night. Google quickly put together a person finder so that people could easily find their loved ones. There were messages of love and support. These are the moments we should remember.
But the next time a horrible event rolls around (because really, there will be a next time), try to remember to keep calm, stay respectful, and be supportive in a time of crisis. Don’t make the situation worse than it already is.
My thoughts are with those poor victims and their families.