Social media reacted quickly -- and often inaccurately -- to Hurricane Sandy and the Newtown massacre. At PCWorld, Zack Miners writes that the bombing at the Boston Marathon shows both the strengths and weaknesses of social media:
Twitter spread news of the blasts quickly and was a useful communications tool for public authorities such as the Boston police and the marathon organizers. But information on social media sites can also be questionable or just plain inaccurate, noted Greg Sterling, senior analyst with Opus Research.
“It cuts both ways,” Sterling said. “It allows you to get the information out more quickly, but it can also fan hysteria.”
Two bombs exploded within 100 yards of each other near the marathon finish line on Monday afternoon. Police say two people were killed and dozens more injured. They have no suspects yet, and President Barack Obama has said it’s not known yet if terrorists were involved.
The Boston Police Department’s Twitter log showed a positive side of social media. It was updated minute by minute in the aftermath of the bombings, often with instructions about which areas to avoid, or information about where the most police officers might be stationed.
There was also misinformation, however. A report was circulated quickly on Twitter that police had shut down cellphone service in Boston to prevent detonation of further blasts, though it ultimately turned out to be inaccurate, according to network operators.
Others had nefarious intentions. At one point, a Twitter account with the handle @_BostonMarathon was promising to donate $1 to victims of the blast for every one of its tweets that was retweeted. Users soon called it out as a fake, noting the real Twitter account for the Boston Marathon was @BostonMarathon.
That type of self-correction could be one of social media’s strongest assets, said Karsten Weide, an analyst with IDC. There can be a lot of false or misleading content, but the nature of the service means that anyone, regardless of their credentials, can do some fact-checking.