Citizens' Reactions to Boston Marathon Bombing: Good and Bad

Posted Thursday, April 18, 2013 in Social Media by Patricia Seybold

In the aftermath of the horrific bombing of the iconic Patriots’ Day Boston Marathon—it seems to me that officials and citizens, first responders, and the Internet—have all played important supportive roles. Unfortunately, US residents are getting a series of lessons in how to cope with senseless mass violence. These are coping skills that citizens in other countries, like Israel, had to learn much earlier. Here are just a few of the items that caught my attention:

  • The tragedy itself—that 3 people died (Martin Richard, an 8-year-old from Dorchester; Boston University graduate student Lingzi Lu, who was from China; and 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, a native of Medford) at least 9 people are now amputees, and 176 people were injured. According to today’s Boston Globe, there are still 62 victims in Boston hospitals, 12 of them are in critical condition.
  • The choice of the event and location—the finish line of an internationally acclaimed sporting event that attracts athletes and amateurs from around the world. And the timing of the blasts—after the famous elite runners had passed the finish line and the “regular” contenders were streaming through.
  • The good news is that the presence of medical personnel and ambulances right at the finish line made for a remarkably quick triage and emergency response process.
  • The other good news is that the there were thousands of volunteers on hand who mobilized themselves to help people, with communications, logistics, food, and lodging.
  • The quick response, mobilization, and coordination of the law enforcement and emergency personnel and the early communications from the police chief, governor, and mayor – which served to calm people, help confused people disperse from the area, and quickly convert it into a crime scene that could be combed for clues within hours of the blasts.
  • The resilience of visitors and locals in dealing with interrupted mobile phone service and all the difficulties of reuniting people with their friends and families. Many people reported that they were able to use SMS to text their loved ones.
  • The Internet used as a coordination mechanism, with both Google and the Red Cross providing databases and web sites that allowed people to find one another. The Boston Globe’s site,, was also a great place to find real-time reliable information.
  • The availability of video footage from outside surveillance cameras. According to a story in today’s Boston Globe:

    “Authorities have clear video images of two separate suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings carrying black bags at each explosion site and are planning to release the images today in an appeal for the public’s help in identifying the men, according to an official briefed on the case.

    The official said that the two suspects were seen separately on videotape — one at each of the two bombing sites, which are located about a block apart.

    The official, who spoke this morning on the condition of anonymity, said the best video has come from surveillance cameras on the same side of Boylston Street as the explosions.”

Apparently, all the videos and photos collected from amateur photographers and from in-building security cameras haven’t been as conclusive. American cities like Boston have been much slower than many other cities in the world (London, Sydney, etc.) to deploy surveillance cameras on every street. If these videos lead to successful arrests, privacy advocates may lose their battle to keep surveillance cameras out of America’s cities.

Online Citizens’ Vigilantism. One of the reports that disturbed me the most was this one from Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic. His article entitled, Hey Reddit, Enough Boston Bombing Vigilantism, is an important caution. Apparently, there are several avid online discussion venues, including the one at Reddit and another at 4chan (and probably others), where amateur sleuths are pouring over the many photos and videos that have been posted, and calling out particular people as suspects and debating the pros and cons of each. As Alexis points out:

“They are well-meaning people who have not considered the moral weight of what they're doing. This is vigilantism, and it's only the illusion that what we do online is not as significant as what we do offline that allows this to go on. Imagine if people were standing around in Boston pointing fingers at people in photographs and (roughly) accusing them of terrorism.”

So let’s be careful about how we use technology to respond to a human (or natural) disaster. It’s great when we can jump online and help the victims regain their equilibrium. It’s not great when we jump online and start pointing fingers at innocent bystanders.

BEWARE OF EMAILS RELATING TO BOSTON BOMBING. In a post titled: Sick Malware Authors Exploit Boston Marathon Bombing with CyberAttack, SophosLabs reports:

With sick inevitability, cybercriminals have exploited interest in the breaking news story of the explosions at the Boston Marathon by spreading malware.

Messages spammed out by attackers claim to contain a link to video footage of Monday's terrorist activity in Boston, with subject lines such as:

  • 2 Explosions at Boston Marathon
  • Aftermath to explosion at Boston Marathon
  • Boston Explosion Caught on Video
  • Video of Explosion at the Boston Marathon 2013

Don't open these messages! If you view the linked video, your system will become infected with malware!


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