Some have called Twitter the ‘new police scanner’, an analogy which makes sense for those of us who had relatives with police scanners and CB radios back in the 70s when they were all the rage. This was very true during the attacks at the finish line of the Boston Marathon: I found myself with four tabs open on my laptop – three were local Boston stations WCVB, WHDH and Boston.com, and the other was Twitter. It did an amazing job of pulling in information because from a wide array of sources shared and retweeted by all of the folks I followed.
I also saw calls for support, notes about how Google set up specific sites to locate people, numbers from the Boston police and FBI, ways to help, and on and on. As they were on the ground in Boston, there were many people on Twitter doing everything they could to help out. There were plenty of brands and companies rushing to help out however they could; you can see a great round up of them, here.
But sprinkled in with all of these informative tweets were the usual stream of promoted tweets, and those from ‘mommy bloggers’ which were largely about coupons, contests and giveaways on their sites. (As for why I follow them, I met a bunch at the Hyundai events). But I noticed two things that were very troubling to me, to the point that I issued my own scathing tweet:
• The volume of these promotional tweets from these sites seemed to increase, and I was seeing repeats within the hour at times (they normally repeat two or three times a day while contests and giveaways are happening).
• Suddenly I was seeing things like ‘Sadness is all around, but wouldn’t winning (_____ insert promoted product here) bring some happiness to your world’. I have since searched and scoured, and I can’t find any of those tweets, leading me to believe that they were later removed … but I did notice on four Twitter accounts a sudden volume drop on the 15th. This tells me I wasn’t imagining things.
There were also small-minded people posting incorrect information intentionally, as well as the so-called ‘false-flag’ attention-seekers and other narcissists seeking to use tragic events to bring attention to their whacked out ideas and to themselves in general.
Much has been made about the Epicurious‘ tweets during the tragedy, but Epicurious was not alone — AdWeek wins the ‘major irony’ award for tweeting to chastise brands using tragedy to promote themselves … by including a link to an article on their site (since deleted, naturally)! Here is a post that writes about THAT idiot move:
There is no doubt in my mind that both AdWeek, and in particular Epicurious, have seen their brands harmed by the way they handled events. A particular issue is the appearance of a human hand – others such as Kim Kardashian have been criticized for promoting TV events, but these tweets were obviously scheduled and were interspersed by actual personal tweets supporting the victims of the tragedy.
But by having a tweet that specifically addresses the events, it gives a rather insidious appearance of intent. Same for those deleted tweets from the mommy-bloggers — while scheduled tweets could be annoying — increasing volume during a tragic event to drive more traffic and adding references to the tragedy to further promote your own site is just a terrible and shameful thing to do.
These things remind us that in many ways Twitter and social media remain immature places that need to learn to deal with these events. But then again, many of the ‘traditional media’ outlets did such a lousy job with fact-checking as they struggled to remain relevant in the always-on world, that they did more harm than good.
What sorts of good and bad things did you see during the tragic events at the Boston Marathon? How do you think things should have been handled?