It was after 11:00 p.m. and I was sitting safely on the couch in my living room, more than 2,300 miles away from the chaos in Boston. I had shut off the television and was about to log off my laptop, and head to bed, when I read a post from a journalist friend of mine who lives in San Diego saying: It’s going down in Boston right now! with links to a few Twitter feeds covering the breaking news.
I, like a lot of Americans, had been closely following the events following the terrible bombings at the Boston Marathon. I opened Twitter, and found the @NewsBreaker account. Managed by David Begnaud, the Twitter account was posting breaking news Tweets every few minutes as the events unfolded in Boston. From @NewsBreaker, I found a link to the Boston Police Scanner, and was able to listen in as well. And, I was crazy enough to also have CNN on my television.
About four hours later, I shut everything down, and went to bed. To me, I learned several things that night about the amazing power of social media, as well as some of the real pitfalls.
NEWS MEDIA FAIL
After following the story that week, it became obvious to me I needed to identify credible sources of information. In the hunt for breaking news and ratings, much of the news media failed at being credible sources. CNN, for example, earlier in the week mis-reported that an arrest had been made – and additionally that the suspect was a “dark skinned male.” Both were false, and law enforcement later corrected them by going to Twitter and issuing statements about the false news. But it was too late. The news of an apprehended suspect spread like wildfire on the Internet, only to be withdrawn later.
Additionally, The New York Post falsely put out a series of incorrect news stories, including a cover story that included a large photograph of innocent people, leading many to conclude they were the bombers, and potentially putting their personal safety at risk. The Post had also included reports of a “Saudi national” in connection with the bombings that proved untrue.
You can read more about these media failures with these news stories:
LAW ENFORCEMENT GOT IT RIGHT
After being duped a few times by traditionally credible news sources, I turned to official law enforcement for the most accurate news. Specifically: @Boston_Police (Boston Police Department), and @EdDavis3 (Boston Police Commissioner) on Twitter. Their motives had nothing to do with getting a news scoop, or ratings; rather their motives were public safety, and accurate communication. In addition to the amazing job these individuals and groups did in protecting citizens and capturing the suspects – they also did a fantastic job using modern tools like social media.
This event has made it clear that law enforcement must embrace and use new technologies to communicate with the public. I have tried to imagine what it would have been like if I lived in Watertown, Mass., during the town lockdown as law enforcement worked to capture the suspects. It would have been terrifying. And, as I’ve discussed in this blog post, the media proved to not be a reliable source of information. Naturally Watertown residents turned to the most credible sources they could find – ultimately this was law enforcement.
Here are some of the best Tweets from the Boston PD and other credible sources.
In closing, law enforcement agencies today can distribute important information to the public through a variety of means, including websites, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. It’s vital agencies provide ways the public to access this information on their smart phone through tools like CityConnect, which integrates many online agency websites into one smart phone application. Agencies can learn more about using the power of social media in The Definitive Guide for Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement.