The Problem with Social Media Coverage of the Boston Marathon Tragedy

Boston Marathon Police Scanner

I listened, shared and watched the details of the Boston Marathon bombing unfold via social media. It captivated a nation and through the power of social media we collectively stood together in unity seeing through every detail leading to the capture of the remaining bombing suspect which I will intentionally not make mention of by name. 

Amateur journalism was in full effect in 140 characters or less. Internet detectives used photos and videos that were shared across the web to piece together what they thought happened and who the suspects were. Mind you this all went down before the FBI officially released photos and video evidence of the real suspects.  People wrongfully were called out and immediately subject to scrutiny from these amateur web detectives, this is an unfortunate by-product of the digital social news age.  People now have access to a treasure trove of information in which they can formulate their own opinions and use social media to broadcast their thoughts to the world, good or bad. 

Reddit, a social news and entertainment website where registered users submit content in the form of a link or text post, struggled to keep up with the traffic even taking steps to turn off commenting on its live feed threads. These Reddit feeds where based off of an interpretation of what was heard on the Boston police scanner. People follow along and they share what they think is going down and naturally this leads to inaccuracies as that message spreads across social channels.  

There was even a UStream channel that was set up that focused in on a Boston Police scanner which UStream confirms that at its peak 265,000 users were tuned in at the time of capture. Over the course of the day a total of 2.4 million people followed along at some point.  

It has never been more apparent through the inaccuracies of reported information by countless “reputable” news sources how desperate these news outlets where to keep pace with the “breaking news”.  News sources such as Fox News and CNN need to realize that the breaking news business has changed and they shouldn’t be so quick to take this shared social media content and present it as fact.

People knock social media and say that this is the problem with using Twitter or Facebook as a viable news source. To a degree they are correct but isn’t the bigger problem turning on CNN and seeing coverage of a story that is factually incorrect? I count on CNN to get it right and I count on social channels to get it information to me quickly. 

After the FBI released their photos and videos of the suspect almost immediately the social media community on Reddit had discovered another photo of one of the suspects leaving the scene. This photo clearly showed the suspect in higher clarity then what the FBI had released to us. Now that is the power of social media. 



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