Marathon Tragedy Highlights Media’s Faults


The media skews a picture of a man comforting an injured women to a story of a man comforting his dead girlfriend.

Kate Laughton, Staff Writer

On Monday, April 15, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people are reported dead and 173 injured so far.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were used by news stations, relief groups, and the government to share new information about the bombings. Often during times like these, false information leaks out to the public and spreads like wildfire. It happens everytime there’s a national tragedy. Rumors come out, and fake stories are created.

In a tweet on April 15, BBC College of Journalism professor Mark Blank-Settle wrote, “Twitter shows its best & worst: loads of info at huge speed, but often false & sometimes deliberately so.”

The most popular false story spread after the bombing was a picture and story of a man kneeling on the ground holding a women in his arms. The story read: “The man in the red shirt planned to propose to his girlfriend as he crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon, but she passed away. Most of us will never experience this amount of emotional pain.”

Although the image is real, the story attached to it is fake. The image on Boston Globe captures a man comforting an injured woman at the finish line. By Tuesday morning, this picture and caption posted on Facebook had more than 448,000 likes and 92,000 shares.

Making up a horrifying story like that is just wrong. The bombing itself was already sad enough, and making up stories to get more “likes” or to gain popularity shows the detrimental side of social media.

Another heartbreaking picture of a questionable victim went viral. A young girl, around six years old, is pictured running with a caption saying she died in one of the blasts “running for the Sandy Hook victims.” First, to run in the Boston Marathon you must qualify and be 18 years old. Second, the bib on the picture is from the Joe Cassella 5K in Great Falls. By Tuesday, it had more than 1000 comments on Google+ and became a “What’s Hot” post on the site. Although this rumor took almost no time to figure out it was fake, it is still sad how social networking sites can spread false information so readily.

Just after the bombing, a Twitter account was created under the name @_BostonMarathon. This account posed as the organizer of the race and tweeted “For every retweet we receive we will donate $1 to the Boston Marathon victims.” It was clear that whoever owned this account could not pay for the 50,000 retweets it got, and was soon shut down. The making of this Twitter account had absolutely no point to it. Again, it was just made to gain popularity among social media users.

Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said during a press conference on Monday that a third incident had occurred at the JFK Library in Boston and that it may be connected to the bombings at the marathon. People took Davis’ words “may be” as “there was,” and within hours of the bombing there were news reports, Twitter posts, and Facebook posts about a third bombing at the library and supposedly more bombs around the city.

It turns out coincidentally that there was a mechanical fire in the heating and ventilation system at the library around the same time as the marathon explosions. This rumor sounds a bit more valid, but still should have gotten confirmation that there was an actual bomb in the library. This rumor caused a lot of fear among Bostonians because they probably concluded that there could be bombs anywhere around the city.

On Thursday, several news stations such as the Associated Press and CNN reported that the suspect had been identified and arrested. Although the suspects had been identified, there was no arrest made.

Media and news stations seem to be more concerned about being first than being accurate. Before spreading rumors, make sure to double check your sources.