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Tracking Tragedy With Technology: How Social Media Helped Boston

by Jane Susskind, published
Photo Credit: The Hollywood Reporter

Social Media Helped Boston

The senseless bombings that occurred in Boston on Monday left people around the nation scared and confused, searching for answers and the whereabouts of those involved in any way in the Boston Marathon. Among the chaos, cell phone reception failed, and people quickly turned to social media to help spread information regarding the tragedy.

"It’s interesting that people seem to be coached now about how to use technology in a way that benefits others,” Michael Halpern told ABC News.

Internet giants Google, Reddit, and Twitter put their power towards humanitarian good, utilizing their key features to mobilize online communities in response to a crisis.

Google: The Power of Search

Just hours after the explosion, Google activated a Person Finder, allowing those with or needing information to use the service to locate loved ones. Created after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Google People Finder is simple: it allows users to either search for people 's whereabouts or enter information they have about someone.

As of today, Google Person Finder is tracking around 5,500 records. With its unparalleled search power, Google provides users with the function to search for recent times and locations, along side the Red Cross' feature, Safe and Well, which allows you to register yourself as "safe and well" or search for loved ones.

Google Person Finder is a part of the Crisis Response nonprofit branch of the company, which optimizes the power of the Internet when disaster strikes.

Reddit: The Power of Community

Up-voted to one of the top stories on Reddit, the Boston Marathon explosion thread acted as a live updates thread, with users posting information and tips throughout the day.

Included were tips like "Use TEXT messages to try to reach people" and "Red Cross is having people register at Safe and Well," helping those in Boston navigate the Internet during the time of crisis.

Even amidst the chaos and tragedy, Redditors offered acts of kindness, with one redditor commenting, "If any Boston runners or visitors need a ride somewhere pm me. I'll give you a ride."

The information posted on Reddit led to answers, with people sharing their successes and happiness upon finding family members.

"Thank you for this. Just found my brother and he finished at 12:58," one Redditor commented.

Reddit, with its involved and compassionate community, has proved yet again to be a central player in the social media world and a vital tool in a national tragedy.

Twitter: Power in Numbers 

In the panic that followed the explosions at the Boston Marathon, phone lines were jammed, prompting a flood of precautionary tweets warning those relying on their phones to find their loved ones that phone lines had been shut down.

With hundreds of millions of users on the social network, Twitter relied on the power of social sharing to spread updates with news accounts, Boston locals, and politicians sharing information:

The Boston Police Department was vocal on Twitter, using the social network to provide updates on the situation, tips, and information to help the people in Boston respond to the incident. Crowdsourcing on the social network, the Boston Police relied on the 500+ million users on Twitter to contribute to the rescue efforts, asking for tips and information using the hashtag #tweetfromthebeat:

With almost limitless power to search, mobilize a community, and spread information, social media has once again earned its place at the top of the list of essential tools for disaster response.

Did you see any innovative uses of social media in response to the Boston Marathon explosions? Share your thoughts below. 

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