We’re All On Twitter—We Just Don’t Know It
Twitter was one of the many ways Bostonites helped each other.
CREDIT: Faraways / Shutterstock.com
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is fond of saying "When events happen in the world, they happen on Twitter."
But this Monday (April 15), it happened the other way around — after the twin bombs went off at the end of the Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding more than 100 people, Twitter became a primary conduit for offering help, contacting loved ones and even gathering evidence.
"We saw a 200 times increase in the use of the word 'Boston,'" Twitter's vice president of product Michael Sippey said at the Dive into Mobile conference on Tuesday. "We also saw a peak in the use of the word 'help.'"
"If you were following any of the hashtags or doing any search queries on 'Boston' or 'Boston marathon' [you would see] people offering help, people responding to offers of help, people praising the first responders." Even the jokers got serious: Parody account BBC Sporf's tweet "AMAZING: Many Boston Marathon runners that completed the race have continued to run to Mass General Hospital to give blood to the victims" was retweeted over 4,400 times. [See also: Reddit Coordinates Boston Relief Efforts]
It wasn't just civilians and journalists who turned to Twitter to get and disseminate information. The Boston Police Department used its official Twitter feed, @Boston_Police, to dispense information, dispel rumors and even gather evidence. One Tweet asking for any video footage of the event was retweeted more than 3,000 times.
So is it time for you to get on Twitter?
These impressive statistics can make you forget that only about 15 percent of Americans use a Twitter account. And yet the 48 hours since the bomb went off have seen a rash of articles touting the "success" of Twitter.
"I hear this after every crisis, and every Grammy award," said social media strategist and founder of SocialPeople.tv James Andrews on Twitter's "success" in the response to the Boston Marathon bombing. "Yes, it’s great that we could get more news, but it’s also great that people helped each other because of Twitter," he said.
Andrews said the lesson to take from social media and the Boston Marathon bombing is not whether to get a Twitter account or not. Rather, he said, Twitter served as just one of many ways in which people reached out to each other in the face of tragedy.
"I don’t care whether everyone in Boston is using Twitter, but I am delighted that someone in Boston had a mobile device with Twitter and was able to read an important tweet and say to the people nearby 'hey, I just read this, we should do this,'" Andrews said.
So in a sense, it doesn't really matter if you get on Twitter or not. Whether or not you have a Twitter account, anyone who’s even heard of the Boston Marathon bombing (and that's everyone) has benefitted from information that passed through Twitter, Andrews said.
Twitter introduced the world to short-form communication, but Friendster introduced the concept of friending, and the platform has already faded out of social relevance while friending itself lives on in Facebook. Technologies come and go, Andrews said, but they leave their imprint on the way that we construct and disseminate information.
And in some ways, it's these learned patterns that matter more than the tool that first created them. "I don’t know if Twitter's going to be around five years from now," Andrews told us, "But I’m sure 140-character messages are going to be."
"I don’t think the world needs more news outlets," said Andrews. "I think the world needs more compassionate people."