Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

- T.S. Eliot -

Boston Marathon and Social Media

Last night, having put my daughter in bed, I fired up twitter to see how quick the lead runners had completed the Boston Marathon. Much to my shock and horror, I saw reports of explosions at the finish and the story started to unfold.  I don’t wish to comment on the motives of the individuals involved or the outcomes of their actions, but I’m going to talk about the influence of social media on our lives and how we digest news.  Given my links with running, police investigations and my previous life in emergency management this story has really grabbed my attention.

My personal timeline goes something like this…

19:57 on 15th April 2013, Runners World retweets @joshcox who says ‘do not go near the finish line at the #BostonMararthon[sic] — 2 explosions in buildings, they also include an image of the explosion.

I think the explosions occurred just before 15:00 Boston time, which is 20:00 where I am. Therefore, by coincidence of checking twitter at the right moment I was watching the story unfold on twitter in near real time. Watching the #BostonMarathon hash tag was mad as the story broke and people tweeted updates.

At 20:01 (GMT) I retweet with a comment; ‘Mental, hope all UK runner are safe. @BBCBreaking: US media report two explosions near finish line in Boston Marathon’ and switch on the televised BBC news to see what is happening….and there is nothing mentioned, so now it really hits home that the story is breaking and developing on twitter faster than ‘traditional’ media. This was bit of a shock to me. I’m not sure why as I’m well aware of the power of social media, I just hadn’t experienced it first hand.

At about 20:20, the BBC news reader states; ‘we are getting copy, from social media sources, of explosions at the Boston Marathon finish, more when we have it’. So now, not only are we (the consumer) getting news stories in real-time from social media, the rolling 24hr news coverage and getting their stories from twitter et al.  As I was growing up we didn’t have 24 hr news, it was about the time of 9/11 that I first remember being aware of news channels. When the 24hr news channels appeared it changed the way we digested news stories, breaking news was news quicker. But now, news is even quicker.

The definition of news is: ‘Newly received or noteworthy information, esp. about recent or important events’.  Now imagine the news story that breaks over twitter, is blasted around the world, reported, people read about it and it’s no longer newly received and therefore no longer news. Then the story goes away again because everyone has heard the news and more traditional sources ignore the story because it isn’t news worthy and/or indeed news. AND then what about printed media, do they no longer report the news? Do they instead simply offer commentary and insight of events that have happened previously but are no longer news?

Before I finish, all of this social media malarkey wouldn’t be possible without the internet. In this instance I was impressed with the speed at which the ‘internet’ responded to the events in Boston.  At 17:00 (22:00 GMT), Digg tweeted ‘Google has created a Person Finder for the Boston Marathon’, that’s only two hours after the incident for the internet giant to responded and built a tool to help people locate their relatives. Thinking back, individuals from 9/11 (I know the scale of the events don’t really compare) were left to stick photographs on railings to try and find their loved ones. How times have changed!!

And so to the London Marathon, which in my opinion is one of the greatest sporting events in the world. We don’t have all of the facts, but at the moment it looks like Boston might have been a terrorist attack. I’m of the opinion that individuals, organisations and governments shouldn’t negotiate or change our behaviours because of terrorists. In my opinion therefore, the London Marathon must continue as normal, runners must turn up and run, supporters must turn up and support. If the worst happens, we have shown the awful people who spread prejudice, hate and fear that we aren’t scared and we’ll keep doing what we do.