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When Social Media and Tragedy Meet

August 23, 2013 by Editor in Features with 0 Comments

By Carla Sofka, Ph.D., M.S.W.

Where were you on April 15 at approximately 2:49 p.m.? Think about how you learned of the Boston Marathon tragedy and how quickly you could access information that was important to you. Were you worried about the safety of someone who was running that day or someone who was watching the race?

Technology and social media are changing the way we learn about tragic events and cope with the aftermath. Recent Siena graduate Kelly Woodard ’13 was visiting a friend at Boston College that day when she received text messages asking if she was OK.

“I had no clue what was happening,” Woodard said. After learning of the bombing, Woodard joined BC students watching the news, checking Twitter and looking at images and newsfeeds on iPads and smartphones.

Is access to technology and social media during times of tragedy helpful? Anecdotal evidence indicates that there are pros and cons. Having information can be beneficial, but fast-breaking information may not be accurate. When asked about the impact of technology on the reactions of those around her, Woodard stated, “With technology, peoples’ minds were racing. They were even more panicked when someone didn’t respond. You think of every possible scenario when you can’t get information.”

Analyses of social media sites and tweets in the wake of the bombing reveal that, in addition to informational messages and advisories that were disseminated by official organizations, numerous messages of support were sent to those in Boston via tweets while reactions to the event were being shared on Facebook. Social media also played a significant role in identifying suspects.

There is no doubt that technology and social media are powerful tools in everyday life and in times of personal and communal tragedy. As a professor who studies the grieving process, I am interested in how social media may have helped you to cope with tragic events. Please feel free to contact me at csofka@siena.edu.

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