In the aftermath of dramatic events like Monday’s bombing attack at the Boston Marathon, it’s a truth of our times that millions of people will get early bits of news via social media.
To be sure, sites like Twitter and Facebook were used extensively by police, relief groups and governments to share important information about the bombings. But there’s also a more unfortunate side to how the Web responds to sudden bad news.
A Twitter account sprouted up under the handle @_BostonMarathon. Posing as the organizers of the race, whoever is behind the account tweeted: “For every retweet we receive we will donate $1 to the #BostonMarathon victims #PrayForBoston.”
By Monday evening, the post had been retweeted more than 50,000 times.
It was, of course, fake. And to its credit, Twitter disabled the account soon afterward.
It wasn’t the only Twitter phony. Another widely talked-about account, @Hope4Boston, shared both the image of the 8-year-old girl who supposedly died and a photo of a young boy, running in a race, who was another supposed victim.
Eight-year-old Martin Richard was one of three confirmed fatalities as of Tuesday morning. But he was watching the race, waiting for his father to finish — not running in it.
The “Hope for Boston” account was created on March 24, according to the Web tool When Did You Join Twitter? But account holders are able to change their handles and names on the site.
Authorities shut down cell phone service
Reports flew around social media, mainly Twitter, on Monday that police in Boston had shut down cellular networks to prevent an attacker from using a cell phone to detonate another explosive. At least one media report quoted an unnamed source with information to that effect, before later recanting.
In truth, Boston’s wireless network was simply overwhelmed with the volume of calls and other communications in the aftermath of the attack. Service was slow and spotty, but never shut down. Verizon and other mobile carriers confirmed they’d never been contacted by officials asking them to shut off service.
Soon after the bombings, mobile carriers were beefing up their networks in the Boston area. AT&T made its Wi-Fi system publicly available for free to help take the load off traditional phone lines.