Social media has been under fire for years. Kids and adults alike have used it to spread hateful messages, waste valuable time or even stalk “friends.” Fortunately, there is a silver lining and last week we all witnessed it. On April 15, Twitter and Facebook demonstrated their greatest value to society.
When the Boston bombers struck, social media exploded. News of the attacks hit Twitter and Facebook seconds after the event and the news never slowed down. Before news channels could even get a story together, Twitter and Facebook users were already debriefed with live accounts of the bombings. Clearly, this was a positive use of social media, but overall it presents some advantages and disadvantages that were definitely seen in the aftermath of a disaster like the Boston bombings.
Among the various Twitter “trending” topics on April 15, #Muslims trended all day. If anyone explored this hashtag, all they saw were hateful generalizations about the Muslim people, assuming that the bombings were a terrorist attack. Two days before the FBI even had suspects, the Twitterverse had already concluded Muslims were the root of the evil and should thus be electronically assaulted.
Truly hateful and senseless tweets dominated this hashtag for hours after the attack. This is a definite drawback to social media in terms of events like these. Anyone can spread anything in an instant. One twitter user claimed “North Korea is beginning its attack on America!” While another reflected “Why don’t we just bomb the Middle East already?” Raw emotion, uninformed opinion and unlimited space coalesced into a jumble of junk.
The winds died down and balance was restored. By the end of the day, #Muslims was trending again. This time people of all ethnicities fought against the wave of assault on the Muslim people in a truly inspiring manner. This counter wave of support for the Muslim community was only the beginning of the support that followed for the victims of the Boston tragedy and the city itself.
#BostonStrong is now a loaded statement. For nearly a week, it seemed like anyone who has a social media account had sent their thoughts and prayers to Boston. Remembrance posts of the victims, relief funds and general support dominated people’s news feeds. Boston was suffering and America held her arms wide open. America proved why she is such a great country even through the use of social media. People reposted pictures and videos of the suspects in a communal effort to aid law enforcement. The Boston Police Department was retweeted nearly 61,000 times in a post about remembering the victims. Even as a Jets fan, I am rooting for Patriots wide receiver, Danny Amendola, to catch as many passes as possible since hearing of his pledge to donate $100 for every catch this upcoming season to “whatever ‘Boston Marathon Relief Fund’ there is” according to his Twitter.
We saw two faces of America through social media immediately following this disaster. Thankfully, one was short lived while the other was genuinely inspirational. Maybe it’s just the nationalist in me speaking, but few other countries come together like America. We are a divided people at times, but when one of us is threatened, we all fight back together. Social media over the past couple weeks has demonstrated America’s vulnerability and injustice at times, but ultimately its compassion, resilience and solidarity. Reading some of the posts on Facebook and Twitter made me truly proud to live in a country where we can unify in the face of calamity. As a friend put it (on Facebook), “I love my country. I love my city. Stay strong, Boston.”