A scene of the Boston Marathon, where explosions were reported near the finish line of the race on April 15, 2013. (ABC News)
Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, played a part in getting information about the Boston attacks to the public and emergency management. Such tools allowed for near-instantaneous reports of the events.
But not all the stories are true.
CNN writer Doug Gross writes that five viral stories about the attacks are not true.
“Sometimes accidentally and sometimes maliciously, false information gets loose,” Gross writes. “And in the rapid-fire digital echo chamber, it doesn’t take long to spread.”
Gross explains five of the most widely shared untrue news stories about the attacks.
One of the pictures from the aftermath showed a man in blue jeans and a red shirt, kneeling on the concrete and holding a woman. The picture is real. However, the story – the man was planning to propose to his girlfriend, who died – is not.
Another false story pictures a young girl running in a road race with text saying that she died in one of the blasts. The post further adds that she was running for the Sandy Hook victims. But one look at the photo shows that the runner is from the Joe Cassella 5K in Great Falls, Va.
A Twitter account with the handle @_BostonMarathon appeared after the attack posing as the organizers of the race. It offered a promise to donate $1 for every retweet of the message. The post had been retweeted more than 50,000 times before the end of the day. It turned out to be a fake posting.
Reports on social media said that police in Boston had shut down cellular networks. Wireless service was never shut down by authorities. Boston’s wireless network was simply overwhelmed by the volume of calls.
Finally, conspiracy theories abound, especially accusations of a “false flag,” or staged attack. Most accusations of conspiracy are often based in political ideology, not an examination of the facts.
“As always, news discovered online (or anywhere else, really) should be double-checked before it’s passed along,” Gross writes, “especially in times of tragedy.”