Social Media Aids Boston Bombing Investigation

It’s Friday afternoon and we are still waiting to breathe a sigh of relief. Hopefully, by the time this post is published, the second Boston Marathon bomber will have fallen to justice. Hopefully, there will be some closure for Boston.

Weeks like this can change your whole perspective on the world. Things you think are so important can really seem pretty trivial. Grocery lists. Emails. The alignment of your printer’s inkjets. Other things that might have been put on the backburner can now seem extremely important. Family dinners. Compassionate words. And… social media?

The Inescapable Social Media Footprint

Earlier in the week, the FBI requested copies of all videos and photos taken at and around the scene of the Boston bombing. Supposed FBI representatives posted directly to Facebook and Reddit asking for the public’s help in acquiring as many pictures and videos as possible.

Yesterday, it was reported that FBI investigators are in the process of sifting through every single social media post that went out near the bomb site on Monday, April 15th. There were more than 30,000 messages to be analyzed. Authorities put the likelihood that bystanders had unknowingly recorded valuable evidence at “100%, 100 times over,” according to an NPR report.

A Wider Perspective

Social media isn’t just a play-by-play for the ordinary lives of individuals. It offers us a chance at more intimate historical records than the world has ever known before. There probably is not a half-second of the Boston Marathon that wasn’t recorded in words, pictures or videos. From a historical perspective, it’s astounding.

Under ordinary circumstances, most socially recorded information falls by the digital wayside. Nonchalant snaps of street scenes get buried under the masses of photos and posts that come after them, becoming infinitesimal scraps of data etched into digital’s already overcrowded history book. But in the occasional times when something terrible happens, everyday snaps and snippets can provide crucial clues to authorities – a suspect’s face in the background, say, or a suspicious package in the corner.

It’s a sobering reason to be extremely grateful for social media.

Not the First Time (Not the Last)

Between moments of “OMG, what did Facebook do to its newsfeed layout?” and “I think it’s a good idea to tweet cryptic song lyrics about my ex,” it is quieting to realize that social media is a major player in global history. Forget the technological advances behind it; we’re talking about its ability to bring justice, to let dark secrets into the light, and to exchange life-changing information on an international stage.

Lest we have forgotten already, in 2009 Twitter let the world into the Iranian presidential election and subsequent protests. Protesters relied on the social media channel to communicate with each other, effectively communicating with the rest of the world during a time when the Iranian government was attempting to suppress information.


This is the time we live in: A time when there is no great public event that isn’t chronicled for the ages, a time when criminals can’t lay down explosives without getting their faces captured dozens of times, a time when corrupt leaders can’t suppress the voices of dissenters, a time when ordinary people do everything in their power to help the wounded and help the course of justice, a time when we have much to be thankful for – not the least of which is the little screen in our own pocket.


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