Once again, Americans have been targeted by a mad, evil person or group intent on creating mayhem and death — and on spreading terror. This time the scene was the finish line of the famed Boston Marathon.
Two bombs exploded in quick succession, bombs whose shrapnel innards were designed to injure, maim and kill the men, women and children who had gathered to compete in and watch one of the year’s great sporting events.
As this writing three had died, scores had been injured and upwards of 20 remained in critical condition.
Among the dead and injured were members of the Martin family, who gathered to see their father and husband finish the race. Richard, 8, was killed by the blast. His mother suffered a severe brain injury, and his 6-year-old sister lost a leg. A once-complete family was rendered asunder in an instant.
Immediately after the blast, many erroneous and irresponsible press reports, as well as false accounts spread via social media made a bad situation worse. Social media, which can be so helpful in so many ways, is a double-edged sword that can also make bad situations worse by ramping up fear, encouraging bad decisions and, ironically, contributing to the terror that the perpetrator(s) hoped to sow.
Such was the case in Boston following the 3 p.m. bombings. Rather than serving the public with reliable facts, some of those who sent tweets and posted on Facebook and other sites spread inaccuracies they had received from others, thus raising the level of fear and uncertainty. Much of this dubious chatter was picked up by the media.
Among the bad information that was reported by the press: More bombs had been discovered and a third had exploded at JFK Library; a hospital where some victims were taken was a target for attack; a Saudi Arabian national was in custody as a suspect. Reports of the dead and injured also varied wildly.
Every news organization wants to beat the competition when reporting breaking news, but some are willing to forego the evidence they need to verify that what they are saying or printing is true. The age of mobile communications seems to encourage this kind of irresponsible reporting.
Moreover, the casual, widespread use of mobile devices and social media seems to have eroded the need to be careful and accurate about what one says. Simply having heard something is justification enough to send it along to others.
In a terrifying and uncertain environment such as existed in Boston Monday, reliable information is essential to public safety and controlling fear. Unfortunately, just the opposite seems to have happened due to irresponsible news reporting and the careless use of mobile devices and social media.
There was, however, also responsible reporting on Monday by news outlets such as the New York Times and Boston Globe . We hope that what transpired during this traumatic incident will encourage others in the media to deliver a more accurate account of events — as opposed to taking social media posts as gospel in order to beat the competition.