Social media are not just about posting status updates on Facebook, capturing pictures of food on Instagram or retweeting your friends on Twitter anymore.
The recent events in Boston proved that social media have become an important way to communicate throughout the world, because it gives users access to information quickly in the palm of their hands, especially in times of crisis.
On April 15, Boston experienced a terror attack during the Boston Marathon when two homemade pressure cooker bombs were placed by the finish line that killed three and injured hundreds of others.
Information about the blasts spread more quickly on social media than on some major news networks because the “journalists” covering the crisis were regular people equipped with smartphones, which they used to document the disaster.
In the past when serious events would occur, the first place people turned were their TVs, but in recent months it has been through Twitter and Facebook. Social media are now, more than ever, the place where people stay connected to news and current events.
Shortly after the bombings, Boston began experiencing an overload of users on cellular networks like Sprint, AT&T and Verizon and signal service was temporarily shut down because of the influx of people calling and texting.
Without adequate cell service available, users turned to Twitter and Facebook over Wi-Fi as a means to communicate, receive information and locate their loved ones.
Google even launched its Google Person Finder tool specifically for Boston to help locate victims. A Google Doc was even created which served as a message board where users could post their home address if marathon runners needed a place to stay, shower or a hot meal.
Not only was social media used as a means of communication, but also as a tool that would eventually help law enforcement officials find the two men responsible for the bombings.
The vast number of attendees at the Boston Marathon meant eyewitnesses were at every street corner taking thousands of pictures and videos at almost every location along the marathon route.
Boston police urged people to send in whatever information they had, even if it seemed insignificant, in hopes that it could be used as evidence.
Even though social media served as a helpful communication tool, the issue of ethics has also come into question regarding images and the accuracy of information.
Graphic images were taken and posted online, which some critics deemed insensitive to display to the general public. Misinformation was also posted by major news outlets such as CNN and the Associated Press, who originally reported that the suspects had been taken into custody, which was not true.
Journalists were given a tough situation in which they had to sort through inaccurate information in order to seek the truth.