Social media lessons learned from the Boston Marathon bombings

On April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds. People across the country and even the world took to social media to express sympathy and hope for Boston as well as to report and weigh in on updates on the bombings suspects and circumstances.

A lot of unsubstantiated details were flying around in the hours and days after the bombing. News organizations felt the need to report updates on the bombing and its aftermath quickly, and some of them got it wrong.

For example, CNN reported that suspects had been arrested, before they actually had.

Less than an hour later, they tweeted a correction without erasing evidence of their mistake, which was the most ethical thing to do.

Unfortunately, the incorrect information was spread further than the correction. Notice the difference in the retweet counts.

So how do we fix a problem like that?  Justin Kings dreams of a day when Twitter will automatically retweet a correction through all accounts that retweeted the incorrect original. While that would be great for news organizations, I’m afraid some Twitter users might balk at the idea of having something like that automated.

Perhaps a less invasive way to achieve the same result would be for Twitter to show tweet with an official correction hashtag (perhaps only from verified news organizations?) in the newsfeed of every follower of all the accounts that retweeted the original — similarly to how they’d show a promoted tweet, except it could say corrected tweet. That way, they’re still getting the information to people who would have seen the incorrect version without automating anything to people’s accounts.

Another social media problem that arose after the bombings is brands attempting to capitalize on the tragedy. It’s hard to draw the line between appropriate reaction versus taking advantage. Social Media Today examines a post from Ford that perhaps inserts a little too much branding into their sympathy and a post from a local NBC station playing a little too much on emotion. I tend to agree with SMT on both of these examples; keeping it simpler would look more sincere and less desperate.


2 thoughts on “Social media lessons learned from the Boston Marathon bombings”

  1. Thanks Julie. We may have to agree to disagree on correcting tweets. I feel even if a correction is promoted it doesn’t mean it will necessarily be RT-ed. I’d prefer to argue for the case of Auto-Correct rather than Automation.

    1. I definitely think it’s a good idea! I guess Twitter could work it into their user agreement that they reserve the right to post corrections for users after they’ve retweeted incorrect information. How the user would react was my main concern. Thanks for commenting!

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