Boston and the freedom to tweet

Photograph: David L Ryan/AP

Photograph: David L Ryan/AP

I am going to be controversial in the wake of the tragic events at the Boston Marathon and talk about social network freedom. Whilst watching the events unfold on TV and social media, I was amazed at the sophistication of scammers trying to promote their cause or just gain followers by posting misleading information.

This was followed by lots of tweeters’ warning others of these scams and rightly shaming those trying to benefit from the immense suffering. It is only natural that when tragedy strikes many people will panic. In exactly the same way people can panic in dangerous real life situations.

Communicating through social media has for many people and I would probably include myself become a task as natural as talking to a friend in the pub. Social media enables real friendships and social bonds to form between people who have never met in real life. People really do have a sense of connection with people on the other side of the globe.

So, when something as awful as the Boston bombing happens, people will panic and the social media tools that provide for many people a sense of community and belonging can be taken advantage of by dishonest people. These fraudulent accounts will invariable be closed down and if fraud has been committed the police will get involved.

Fraudulent Tweet

Since the tragedy I have seen a few blogs telling people off for not showing common sense when tweeting. As anyone who has been a victim of fraud will tell you; they didn’t know what was happening to them at the time of the fraud. This is exactly the same with Twitter fraud; the people who retweeted the @_BostonMarathon account were innocent people trying to do good through social media in the belief their tweet would raise money for those tragically hurt.

Communications professionals often genuinely use mechanics like that one used by the @_BostonMarathon account to raise money for charity causes. I would hate to see people on social networks become so skeptical they were scared to click on a tweet because of fear of being berating by other community users.

I also believe charities have a role to play in offering sympathy to those effected by events such as those in Boston. Promoting your next fundraising event or asking for donations isn’t probably appropriate but genuine engagement and kindness always has a place in my eyes.  Even if a few people misused Twitter, overall it was used to inform people at the event and around the world of what was happening to people they were worried about and Google created this wonderful person finder for those worried about someone in Boston.

We live in crazy times, as a member of a non-violent, peaceful environmental action group we know the police monitor our social media communications. They email us often asking if we want to meet with them and discuss our protests that we organise on social media.

Teresa May, The Home Secretary speaking in parliament earlier this year made a Freudian slip saying; “ Police officer regularly use Twitter to access, sorry, I mean send messages”. The point being Twitter and other social media channels are already a heavily policed already by governments and law enforcing authorities.  Freedom to say what you want, click what you want, connect with who you want, is what I believe makes Twitter great.

Lets encourage more people use these tools to build connections, these relationships often lead to virtual and real life collaborations which benefit wider society.

Lets not make Twitter or other social networks elitist places ruled by strict rules where people are scared to join in.

The freedom to connect, create and click that button on whatever you want, is what makes it beautiful.

Further Reading:

For a full overview on social media at the Boston Marathon try reading @holmesdm blog: Boston marathon: Has social media coverage finally matured? 

For an alternative view to me on this issue read the very lovely @LondonKirsty blog: Why, when tragedy strikes, does common sense goes out the window?

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3 thoughts on “Boston and the freedom to tweet

  1. Great blog post Damien! I absolutely agree with you that people have the right and freedom to have their say on social media and I certainly hope my own blog post hasn’t put them off ,as that was absolutely not the intention. I just wanted to make the point that people should be slightly cautious in times of tragedy and perhaps investigate a little before blindly jumping in and sharing things that are unhelpful, untrue or just…spam.
    We can argue that perhaps the bogus Twitter account didn’t actually do any harm but I have no doubt that posting the picture of that little girl has (mentioned in my blog post). And that’s surely not right?

    • Yeah, I agree the people running the fraudulent accounts are dreadful people and the story about the 8 year girl is indeed sickening. Perhaps a little guide of how to spot fraudulent tweets in a time of crisis may have been useful e.g. look for account verification, check previous tweets. I love that Twitter is an open place, I think for example my Mum would really enjoy using it but she isn’t confident enough with it yet I just wouldn’t want her to worry about tweeting the wrong thing. Good to debate this and your blog inspired mine and ended a bit of a writers block for me. 🙂

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