What we learned from Boston


By Stijn Bergman

The day is the 5th of April,2013. 26 thousand runners are preparing themselves to run the daunting distance of 42.195 meters or, more historically speaking, the exact distance between the Battle of Marathon and Athens. This version of the marathon is traditionally held on Patriot’s Day in Boston. Then, at 2:49 p.m., all hell breaks loose, two home-made bombs, constructed out of pressure cookers, explode in the crowd. 3 people are killed and 260 people are injured. Within 10 minutes of the bombing, the official Twitter account of the Boston Police Department starts releasing as a much information concerning the bombing as they have and start instructing people to remain calm. Every single newspaper, television station, radio network, social media blog is trying to get more information about what is happening, people are getting misinformed by the sheer amount of messages that are being broadcast. Until they all notice that the only correct information is being spread by the BPD.

The BPD was commended after these events and rightfully so. Information needs to flow in a controlled manner after a disaster, but social media has made this increasingly more difficult. Official institutions need to battle with the fact that 79% of social media users trust the information broadcasted by their peers. That means that if one person has been misinformed and broadcasts this on social media, their peers will be very likely to also be misinformed. This causes unnecessary chaos and makes the job of official institutions’ social media departments a whole lot harder.  What the BPD did was actively combatting any and all wrong information they could find and putting themselves forward as the only source for correct information.

Personally, I think that this is key to the future of information flows during disasters. Printed media seems outdated and is too slow. Carefully crafting press releases for journalists to sift through to subsequently write their owns stories is laborious and can lead to misapprehensions. The smarter way seems to have an on-staff social media team that goes in overdrive when disaster strikes. The information is spread faster, you seem to be able to counter wrong information being broadcasted, the reach is far greater and it probably is a lot more cost efficient. With the sheer amount of people using social media on their handheld devices, it is sure to be a whole lot quicker as well. Because, why wait for tomorrow’s newspaper if you can simply check your Twitter feed?


Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 (Ray, Michael) 2016 https://www.britannica.com/event/Boston-Marathon-bombing-of-2013

Social Media: Big Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing (Newcome, Tod) 2014 http://www.govtech.com/public-safety/Social-Media-Big-Lessons-from-the-Boston-Marathon-Bombing.html

Nederlanders vertrouwen ‘owned’ media van bedrijven meer dan traditionele media (The Dutch trust ‘owned’ media of companies more than traditional media)(Mulder, Jasper, January 2016) http://www.adformatie.nl/nieuws/nederlanders-vertrouwen-owned-media-van-bedrijven-meer-dan-traditionele-media

Global social media research summer 2016 (Chaffey, Dave,2016) http://www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing/social-media-strategy/new-global-social-media-research/


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