Social media’s role in Boston Marathon story development

Last week the entire country hovered around computers, tablets and smartphones for minute-by-minute news, as well as public commentary, in the development of the Boston Marathon story. But what role did it have in the capture of suspects, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

It is not a recent trend for social media to be heavily involved in the progression and delivery of news stories in the media, with its constant coverage of both fact and opinion during highly scrutinized news events.

Information surrounding the Boston Marathon explosion flooded social media avenues like Facebook and Twitter. Over the series of events, the bits and pieces of information were delivered, retracted, redelivered, confirmed and reconfirmed by several news outlets across various platforms.

Brian Kaylor, a social media professor at James Madison University commented on how social media influenced public knowledge of the story, as well as its possible implications:

“Before retweeting and passing along that information, just taking a deep breath and say, ‘We may not know this in the next five minutes.’ In the social media we expect it right now. We want to know right now. We just have to, I think, all kind of have to collectively calm down and realize that it’s helpful, but we have to be careful not to use this tool to the point that it becomes a detriment.”

Several different sets of information spread as fact left many confused and misinformed.

Along with its influence in the delivery of the story, social media also played a huge part in public speculation regarding the Tsarnaev’s motives and whereabouts.

A YouTube account tied to a Google account was believed to belong to Tamerlan, the older brother. While he did not post any videos, he liked and subscribed to video channels including a few Islamic-based channels and a playlist called “Terrorists.”

It was also reported that Tamerlan’s brother and survivor, Dzhokhar, was tweeting from the account @J_tsar while on the run.

His most recent tweet before capture read, “I’m a stress free kind of guy.”

Spokespeople for Twitter did not respond to the media’s request for comment on whether the company was working with authorities during the manhunt.

However, one man’s Facebook post of a photo taken directly after the second bomb exploded Monday went viral and played a pivotal role in the manhunt. David Green, who took the picture, contacted the FBI and they said it was the best picture they got of Dzhokhar. After posting it on Facebook, the photo got over 12,000 “shares” and was also covered by other media.

“My god, you know, I actually hit the lottery where I took that one picture that could have been helpful,” Green said. “So it’s about the greatest win that I could have ever had right there to have helped.”

Once the image was shared, authorities received loads of tips about the two suspects.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was fatally injured April 19 after carjacking an SUV and engaging in a shootout with local police; his brother allegedly drove the car over him while trying to escape.  After a day-long manhunt, a watchful Watertown resident found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hiding in a boat stored behind his house.

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