Social Media and Crisis: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

4/24/2013

- Danielle Leitch, Executive Vice President

We are all keenly aware of how quickly news and current events can be transmitted across the world via Social Media.  This is equally true for false or mis-information - which can lead to panic, fear or worse. After the recent bombings in Boston, Social Media became a haven for confirming the well being of loved ones, being kept up-to-the minute on the news unfolding, directing visitors and locals with emergency details and ultimately, "getting the bad guys".  Although for many this tragic situation was eerily similar to that of 9/11 in NYC, Social Media and Mobile/Smartphones were not as prevalent then as they are today. Therefore, we saw a much different response and reaction globally with the events unfolding in Boston.

In crisis, people crave support, information and hope.  When reflecting on the capabilities of Social Media, it actually does offer us all three. We witness this through video, images, endorsements, short text posts and longer forms of content. In a world of instant gratification, channels like Twitter and Facebook can provide almost real-time data to the rest of the world.  The ability to follow a hashtag (#) can allow anyone to provide support, feedback or just be kept updated with information.  This was probably never more obvious then with the hashtags, #Boston and #BostonStrong, over the past two weeks.

Yet, this fast and furious dissemination of data does not come without peril. A few times throughout the Boston tragedy, inaccurate information went viral. Not only is this dangerous to the public and possibly for law enforcement too, but it put the lives of innocent people in danger. When there aren't any filters and people are looking for answers, many of us become instantaneously journalists, detectives and at times Judge and Jury too. Since this is done in such a public, open fashion - there is little room for mistakes.  When mistakes are made, there is much less attention on any retraction then there was on the initial claim.

In my opinion, the pros of a social community and its crowdsourcing/sharing far outweigh any of the negatives in a tragic event like what we just went through in Boston. However, I think some lessons can be learned relative to making quick judgments in an open forum that may not be able to be retracted later, as well as determine who the trustworthy sources are to follow in times of crisis or emergency.

Personally, I was grateful to Social Media for the updates provided during the unfortunate events in Boston.  In addition, I was glad there was a quick and easy platform to share my support with those I know in the area and those I don't.

For all those touched directly or indirectly by this senseless act, #BostonStrong!

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