Information Anarchy: Boston Marathon Bombing Breaks on Twitter

Two explosions went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday around 2:50 pm.

By 2:55 pm, Americans were glued to their Twitter feeds absorbing the photos, videos, and live accounts that were going viral. Before a single news outlet could make sense of the commotion, Twitter had stolen their thunder. Faster than lightning, smart phone owners present for the attack broke the story – in 140 characters or fewer.

In this modern world Twitter is information anarchy, there is no regulation on what can be said or who the information reaches. I know I was not alone in pouring through the differing reports and theories being posted to twitter in real time, just trying to make sense of what actually happened. It took less than 10 minutes for “blame Obama” and “this was a terrorist attack” tweets to start clogging the network, shortly followed by tweets questioning or claiming if this attack was an “inside job.”

These questions and accusations will have their place in the conversations sure to follow this tragedy, but, remember, Tweeters: as major news is breaking conspiracy opinions are not remotely helpful.

Still, among the contradictory accounts and arbitrary claims disseminated through the Twittersphere, there were also gruesome photos and chilling video accounts telling the story of what was happening in Boston. Seven minutes after Boston entered chaos, I was sitting in class watching a video of the explosions. Seven minutes later, though physically in Alabama, I was frightened for and with my fellow Americans and the international visitors in Boston. This is the value that Twitter gave us.

It didn’t take long for the major news networks to issue their reports of the shocking event, but they had very little new information to offer. They were also on par with Twitter in accuracy; an hour into the crisis the New York Post reported that there were 12 confirmed dead, when the death toll has only reached 3. Meanwhile CNN’s Jane Harman persisted in talking about Al Qaeda despite having zero evidence that the attack had anything to do with Islamists or terrorist groups. Blogger/podcaster and renowned truther Alex Jones wasted no time in starting the “#falseflag” hashtag, asserting the US government was behind the bombing.

While the Boston Globe saw its server crash momentarily from the flux of traffic to its site, Twitter remained a key aggregate people turned to for updates on the Boston Marathon bombing. Connecting us, informing us, placing us in the reporting arena; Twitter allows us to be proponents of the news rather than just consumers of.

Breaking news at the speed of texting, Twitter helped spread the word faster, perhaps diminishing the time it took for paramedics and fire fighters to reach the scene – perhaps saving a life. If you can’t see the value in information anarchy or become vexed by every Joe and Sally acting as reporter; you still cannot deny the importance of faster information exchange.

You cannot deny that Twitter has changed the world.