A Disaster in the Digital Age

The news that a bomb went off at the Boston Marathon broke out on Twitter a few minutes after the tragedy. Working in public relations, an industry that directly deals with media, I heard the news from a coworker of mine who saw probably one of the earliest tweets.

Inevitably, media and many of us started to draw a parallel between today’s attack and 9/11–both major U.S. cities, both attacking civilians, both series attacks and both on a beautiful day. However, what differentiates 4/15 and 9/11 in addition to the magnetite of the event, is how many more recourses we have today that may help officials to collect evidence and find the individuals or organizations responsible for the disaster, thanks to the high prevalence of mobile devices, social media and wireless communications.

I remembered reading an article that says 9/11 was the last under-documented major historical event. Indeed. Videos from all angles that captured the attack today started surfacing online minutes after it happened, accompanied by tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram photos. These social media posts are not only statements that remind us the unfinished war against terrorism but more important, they can be valuable assets to help officials connect missing pieces and trace details they would otherwise not be able to.

In addition, if people in charge of the investigation pulled all available data–videos, photos, geo-location information, sequence of tweets, proximity of Facebook responses and etc–can you imagine how much further we can go in terms of analyzing the attack from multiple dimensions? This could be such a meaningful experiment for “big data.”

In today’s disaster investigation, investigators should treat relevant social media posts seriously. Even a short tweet can include critical information to solve the puzzle.

Finally, my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and the great city of Boston.

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