[ View the story "Harvard report explores Boston police Twitter use during marathon bombings" on Storify] Harvard report explores Boston police Twitter use during marathon bombings The report credits department response as example of effective community policing.
AJAMStream· Thu, Apr 10 2014 17:26:30
The report also concluded that BPD's plan, which went into effect almost immediately after the April 15 bombings, was the result of "previous trust building by the department" in being active on social media even though what it tweeted before the bombings occurred was more "mundane."
In a Harvard podcast about the report (below), Ed Davis, the former BPD commissioner who oversaw the department's marathon investigation and one of the report's co-authors emphasized that the BPD already had a presence online and also realized that listening to others on social media was just as important as sharing information.
"You can't make a relationship in a crisis, whether it's on social media, or with partners or with people you have to respond with. You have to do that work beforehand," Davis said. "And luckily in the Boston Police Department we had a pretty significant presence on social media prior to the bombings."
Ed Davis on Social Media's Role after the Boston Marathon Bombings | PolicyCast by Harvard UniversityFormer Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis discusses the critical role social media played following the Boston Marathon bombings, becoming the most effective way for law enforcement to communicate with the community.
Twitter statistics confirm Davis' assertions. An analysis by The Stream of Twitter followers through third-party tools for
showed that on April 14, 2013, the day before the bombings, the account had 54,662 followers. By April 15, that number had almost doubled to 116,882. The account's followers number peaked at 331,158 on April 22. A year later, the account is at about 269,000 followers.
The report also detailed how critical it was for BPD to share information as quickly and as accurately as possible. "Boston police officers at the scene realized quickly that social media would play an important role in keeping the public informed about the explosions and their aftermath. En route to the scene of the bombing, police commissioner Davis instructed the Media Relations Office to prepare to use all forms of social media and to push accurate and complete information to the public. About 10 minutes after the detonations, a BPD commander on the scene called for the use of social media to communicate to the public the steps the police were taking."
About an hour after bombings, BPD's first tweet went out:
Boston Police confirming explosion at marathon finish line with injuries. #tweetfromthebeat via @CherylFiandacaBoston Police Dept.
"All of the BPD tweets about the bombings on April 15 were sent on the department’s oﬃcial Twitter account, which was directly overseen by BPD’s public information bureau chief, lawyer and former television journalist Cheryl Fiandaca," the report said.
Throughout the investigation, Fiandaca's staﬀ was "briefed by commanders three to ﬁve times per day." As a result, "BPD tweets rapidly became the most trusted source of information about the status of the investigation and were often retweeted hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of times."
The events of the bombings and investigation led to false reports on social media, which the report also addressed: "One of the most important uses was correcting the misinformation that was spread through both professional media and social networks."
One example cited was Reddit, which was criticized for crowdsourcing theories about the bombings. The online feeding frenzy
Reddit general manager Erik Martin to offer a public apology just a week after the bombings, specifically for the
reporting on Sunil Tripathi. Many Redditors wildly speculated that Tripathi, who was missing at the time of the bombings, was at the marathon and may have played a role in the attack. Here is a part of what Martin posted:
However, though started with noble intentions, some of the activity on reddit fueled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties. The reddit staff and the millions of people on reddit around the world deeply regret that this happened. We have apologized privately to the family of missing college student Sunil Tripathi, as have various users and moderators. We want to take this opportunity to apologize publicly for the pain they have had to endure. We hope that this painful event will be channeled into something positive and the increased awareness will lead to Sunil's quick and safe return homeredditblog.com
Tripathi was never in Boston. Instead, the Brown University student, missing since March 16, 2013, was found
in Providence on April 23. There was no connection at all to the Boston bombings.
On a previous
, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian addressed the critiques:
.@alexisohanian says reporting on Reddit's attempts to ID Boston bombers spun situation out of control. News orgs have to sift through noiseThe Stream
As for challenges, the Harvard report concluded that police departments all over the country run the risk of losing the public's trust by not being active on social media. "The social media audience will not patiently wait for information to be released through official channels. If the police are not on social media, someone else will shape the way that information from the police is presented on social media. On the other hand, if police do provide information through social media — and if they have worked to maintain the community’s trust — the police can play a powerful role in shaping the story."
Many Boston residents would agree. Last April was a tenuous time in the city, and getting accurate information was paramount in keeping the city strong.