At the time of this article, the Boston tragedy of April 15, 2013 is barely twenty-four hours old.
By now the availability of information for people following these events includes a wealth of assorted stories about the gruesome carnage at the scene, the heroism of the many bystanders who ran toward the explosions, and the heartwarming compassion of many Bostonians who turned out to offer shelter and food to victims.
As with tragedies in the very recent past, social media was at the forefront of providing real-time information.
Yet the twist this time around is that new social media platforms are providing lessons on how evermore effective digital soap-boxes are providing a voice to those who are now filling a role previously reserved for political and news commentators: the provision of alternate interpretations of events.
And as always in times of chaos and tragedy, these are ripe with opportunities for the type of misinformation to spread that can define events and/or participants inaccurately.
Although Reddit and Imgur are not new to the social media landscape (at least in terms of digital media platforms), their contributions to what their respective users “know” about the events in Boston cannot be discounted.
Reddit’s ‘Live Update Threads’ proved an interesting aggregator of information from MSM and citizen-journalists broadcasting on social media, and it even provided quick-time background information on the now famous cowboy hat hero.
Imgur has been particularly fascinating as a platform for people around the world to express a range of emotions and reactions that include everything from expressions of empathy, disbelief, hero recognition, cynicism, and even defiance.
One imgurian (the name for imgur users) has even already used the platform to express their displeasure at the Westboro Baptist Church’s promise to protest the funerals of victims via animated GIF.
As we witness the continually changing landscape for how people get their information and contribute to what is said in the public domain, it is necessary to consider how an organization or institution might be prepared to deal with both organic and synthetic crises in the digital space.
For examples of good crisis management yesterday, consider a story about two entities that had almost nothing to do with the bombings: the Pilgrim and Seabrook nuclear generating facilities.
If ever there was a risk that misinformation would spread in the digital sphere about these two facilities in the aftermath of the explosions, it was inoculated by the quick news that their facilities were secure.
Misinformation can spread quickly in times of chaos and disaster.
In the changing landscape of how information moves, the danger has grown as the ability to misinterpret events has spread from being the domain of professional news commentators, to that of anyone who can create a potentially viral meme.
And unlike traditional news sources, a viral meme cannot issue a retraction.
Now more than even, organization must consider that if they don’t respond in a quick and measured manner, that they can fall victim to being defined by external sources they cannot control.