Social media shines in the midst of a tragedy

This week I wanted to write about DropBox and how successful it has been with us internally. And then someone else wrote about it. And then Boston bombings happened.

I went to cover the reference desk just as the tragedy had occurred. Oblivious to what had transpired, my colleague who was getting off the reference desk, informed me of the bombings. She is an avid runner herself, so this was particularly hard hitting. We didn’t have much time to chit chat, as she was off to cover our chat reference service. As she hurried off, she left our computer on the website.

I left my browser there, and, in between assisting students, I would glance at my screen to see what was going on.

In the hour that I was at the reference desk, I saw a tragedy unfolding but also people coming together and using social media to mobilize. This was a live blog and something I’d never seen before. I was amazed at how promptly the website was grabbing tweets, YouTube postings, Instagram pictures, blog entries. You name it! Also, the site seem relatively reliable. You’d see some entries pop up and then immediately removed, as if someone was monitoring content and deleting inappropriate entries.

When something was not deemed reliable, it would do a disclaimer and many entries from sources did not make the cut.

In the hour or so that I was there, I knew which areas where closed off, where runners were being diverted to, that phones weren’t working, that there had been a registry set up to find your runner, that people were mobilizing to offer housing to those in need (a googledocs document was set up for this).

I was intrigued by the technology running this live blog. It turns out it is powered by something called ScribbleLive. One of their tag lines is: Powering storytelling. In real-time. I couldn’t agree more. And the people at knew just how to take advantage of it.

As far as uses for traditional libraries, I’m not so sure. But I can definitely see the use for large institutions. We all have had to deal with emergency issues, whether they are power outages (about a year and a half ago we had the biggest blackout in California’s history) or natural disasters (we’ve had our share of fires which bring our area to a standstill, other areas have hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.) or any other situation where you need to get the word out fast and reliably.

Now that we have so many social media tools and people have different preferences as to what they use, utilities such as ScribbleLive are much needed tools. And it doesn’t hurt when they properly used.

My thoughts with all the people affected with the Boston tragedy. This is  what the live blog is reporting as I do my final save on the post:



5 thoughts on “Social media shines in the midst of a tragedy

  1. mcnabbarchives

    Unfortunately, social media also facilitates rumor cycles. It’s astonishing how rapid false information can be disseminated when it is in meme form. Within an hour of the tragedy, my Facebook feed was full of complete fabrications that people were “liking” and sharing. For the most part, I believe the participants are acting in good faith– a hopeful message makes people feel good, and a bleak message makes people feel motivated to social justice. However, the creators of these rumor cycle images are trolling, either maliciously or for some other unknown reason. And social media is the supreme facilitator.

    1. Laura Post author

      Precisely. And that’s one of the things I liked about this site, that it was actively and quickly moderating posts coming in.

  2. laurenpeters

    Laura, thank you for this post. I am always looking for where the information comes into when something like this happens. There is a page where people can buy pizzas for anyone in need in Boston. Its called Random acts of Pizza.
    There is also a group that comes together to analyze photos called 4chan. They think they have a suspect in the bombings by looking at masses of photos uploaded to their site.

    Maybe the people can help find this awful person and lock him up using social media.

  3. J. Andrews

    I couldn’t get to on Monday when I tried. I was following things on, which is a New Hampshire station. They had a live video feed as well as a live feed of, I think, Twitter, on the bottom. I knew to take any information that was coming out so soon after with a grain of salt. Early on there was report of a tweet of missing limbs, and I wasn’t ready to believe that. Because it was a tweet from a random person. But.. it turned out to be true. 😦

  4. kallierees

    It is interesting to see how social media has and will continue to transform how we get information in a crisis. Harris County Public Library’s whole social media existence began in response to Hurricane Ike and getting information out to people via Twitter. I do think in crisis moments people look to the community organizations such as the library to provide information, so in that sense I think ScribbleLive could be a useful tool.
    I did not receive any false or malicious posts on my Facebook feed. I am in a running group and I did see a lot of runners coming together through Facebook to organize various Runs for Boston. It seems like a small thing to do, but it let’s Boston know they are in the thoughts and prayers of people all over the nation.


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