16 Apr 2013

Social media users rally to help Boston bombing victims

In the aftermath of the Boston bomb attacks, internet users help by crowdsourcing accommodation for evacuated families and helping people track down loved ones.

Within minutes of the bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon, scores of updates and pictures were being circulated on Twitter, and with phone networks down the authorities sought help from the web to keep information flowing.

More than 8,000 people signed up to a shared Google document to help house runners, families and spectators stranded after the explosions.

The scheme was set up by Boston.com after hotels were evactuated and the airport close. Users left contact details and comments offering help.

“Can drive to pick you up and can take a few people,” one user offered, while another message read: “I live in Hopkinton – but would happily drive anywhere to pick up a runner who needs food, shelter and comfort.”

Google Person Finder helped family and friends of Marathon runners find their loved ones after the explosions. Users could enter the name of a person they’re looking for or enter information about someone who was missing.

Mobile phone networks struggled in the Boston area leaving far-flung family members and friends frantically using social media to check on the safety of runners and spectators.

Disaster Tech Lab, a group that provides communication networks for use in disaster relief, called for people to unlock their wifi connections for the public to use.

Boston Police took to Twitter to request video footage of the finish line, while the fire department felt obliged to tweet to tell users that it was their policy not to tweet while treating people at the scene. Warnings about searches and controlled detonations were shared widely online to prevent panic.

Jonathan Ball, from Leeds, used Twitter to tell his friends and family he was “very shaken” but safe, he tweeted: “Shocked and saddened by the tragic events here in Boston. My heart goes out to all those families affected”.

A Facebook post from comedian Patton Oswalt posted in the wake of the bombings has gone viral, with over 150,000 shares. His post affirms the positive reaction to the attack; “You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out.”

Twitter backlash

One Twitter account created in the wake of the marathon bombing has, however, sparked fury with social networkers accusing it of attempting to cash in on the atrocity.

The @–BostonMarathon handle pledged to donate one US dollar to the victims of the terror attack every time a user retweeted the account.

The account was suspended after Twitter when users alerted the site with claims the profile was set up as part of a “desperate and pathetic” bid to gain followers.

Social networkers suggested that whoever was behind the account could have planned to cash in by selling the account at a later date. Others branded the creators “leaches” as it quickly accrued a following of 2,000 people.

Another account @HopeForBoston posted images of child runners they claimed had died in the blasts demanding users retweet the images in “respect”. The race was limited to adults only.