Boston Marathon Bombing Reveals the Best in People and a Dark Side to Twitter

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Yesterday our nation reeled from a senseless attack on innocent people. I know here at home, we were desperately reaching out for answers. My husband had family in Boston and I had friends who were participating in the race. We were scrambling to make sure our loved ones were okay (all is fine, btw).  We mourn as a nation, as humans. We are grateful for the brave people who ran toward danger to render aid to the suffering.

There were nurses, doctors and other medical professionals participating in the marathon. Despite the fact they were at the end of running over twenty-six miles, they still dove in to assist those injured in spite of their own exhaustion and pain. Carlos Arredondo, who lost his son in Iraq, bravely jumped a security fence into a pile of fallen bodies and immediately rendered aid.

I am awed, humbled and amazed by the many stories of everyday heroes.

Image of Carlos Arrodondo via The Washington Post.

Image of Carlos Arrodondo via The Washington Post.

Yet, in the midst of all this chaos, one story in particular caught my attention because, oddly enough, it made headlines along with all other reports piling in from the blast site. My husband and I were searching for breaking news to see if any of our loved ones might be among the victims when I saw this:

Kim Kardashian Attacked on Twitter  for Self-Promotion During Boston Marathon Tragedy.

I’m not a political analyst and I’m not law enforcement, but I do teach social media. This headline caught my attention because it brought up a new angle I’d not previously contemplated, a new dark side to social media for us all to be wary of. I hesitantly bring this up today, but only because I believe this story is such a powerful cautionary tale for all of us who use social media. We must be responsible and authentic.

A World of Instant

We live in a world of instant communication and connection, and social media is a double-edged sword. Last year, social media saved lives and helped keep my family safe during a sudden outbreak of 22 tornadoes in one day.  Since our power was out, all we could hear were sirens but we couldn’t tell if they were warning our area, or somewhere nearby. I rushed out front to listen closer, and that’s when I heard that unforgettable freight train sound and watched an F-2 lower out of the blackness.

With no power, we had no way of knowing what might be headed our way….and the tornadoes kept coming and coming, one after another. Twitter is what kept us informed. We huddled in the bathroom and used my cell phone to watch Twitter.

Once the power returned, I got back on Twitter to return the favor. One woman who follows me had taken a moment to peek at her Twitter feed at work. I’d just tweeted that yet another tornado was on the ground in Dallas and headed straight for them.

Later, I found out the woman worked in a virtually windowless building and they had no way of knowing DFW was experiencing a tornado outbreak of historic proportions. Had I (and others) not tweeted the warning, the woman and her coworkers wouldn’t have known to seek shelter mere minutes before they were hit.

I bring this up to show that social media is amazing, wonderful and powerful, but we have to be careful how we use it. I’ve talked at length about how I am adamantly opposed to automation, particularly automation that is meant to “appear” as if there is a real person present.

The World Can Turn on a Dime

News breaks in an instant. These days, when disaster strikes, the public knows within minutes, often before anyone even knows what’s really transpired. Social media is used to relay instant news, connect family to loved ones, warn of further danger, etc.

A Perfect Storm

When we preprogram “chatty self-promo” messages, most of the time, people won’t notice, especially if the person injects real tweets in between. Yet, the world can go so dark so quickly, that chatty self-promo automation can become an instant nightmare. Kim Kardashian tweeted her condolences to the victims of the Boston tragedy, but then a little over 20 minutes later tweeted:

“Check out @krisjenner on @QVC’s PM Style Show at 7PM EST tonight!”

Fans were livid and went on the attack. According to the article (linked above) via Hollywood Life’s Emily Longoretta:

One tweet read: “America is in the midst of a tragedy right now. F— you.”

Another similarly responded: “WE DNT GIVE A F— RIGHT NOW KIM.”

Shortly after Kim’s tweet, her mom Kris Jenner sadly followed her insensitive lead.

“Dolls! Don’t miss me tonight at 8pm ET on @QVC! I’m debuting my gorg new scoopneck tunic on PM Style!! Join me!” Kris wrote on her Twitter, receiving a backlash just like Kim. However, then she removed it.

To me, it is clear that some intern probably just got fired. The Kardashians have a legion of media people to clean up the PR nightmare, yet this highlights a point I’ve been trying to make for some time now.

People are on social media to be social. Ads, promotion and automation from people are resented in general, but they can spark a wildfire of backlash if automation meets with poor timing as it did in the case of the Kardashian family.

I don’t think most of us believed the Kardashians were actually tweeting those promos. I feel the Kardashian fans, for the most part, just accept that promotion goes along with “keeping up with the Kardashians.” But when that automation met the perfect storm of tragedy? It was ugly.

I believe the ill-timed self-promotion eclipsed the genuine condolences Kim offered the victims, and that’s very sad.

Not Everyone Understands the Ins and Outs of Twitter

One thing we are wise to consider is that a lot of regular people use Twitter, but many don’t understand it the way those of us building a platform do. Many people don’t realize it’s possible to automate, so when they see in ill-timed tweet in the middle of disaster, they react as violently as they would toward someone trying to sell vitamins at a funeral.

We Take a Risk

Humans remember the negative far longer than the positive. If we automate, we are gambling that we can run to Hoot Suite and shut down the chatty auto-tweets before we “tweet” something that makes us look like insensitive jerks. It’s a big gamble with high stakes. What takes years to build can only take seconds to destroy.

Boston, We Love You

I am grateful for Twitter. It kept us and others safe last year in the tornado outbreak. It’s allowed me to reach out to friends in Boston and be there for them, to make sure they’re all right. I think social media is a blessing, but only when we use it with love, wisdom and prudence.

Our hearts and prayers go out to Boston. We love you, support you, we mourn for you and we are here for you.


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  1. Great post, Kristen. Thx. I would add that feeding the fear in a twitter stream doesn’t help. Nor does spreading rumors. Through social media, we have opportunity, but also a responsibility. A focus on what brings us together is more powerful than what tears us apart.

    1. Agree 1000%.

      • Ed on April 16, 2013 at 11:14 am
      • Reply

      I agree. I kept seeing that now famous picture of the man in the red shirt kneeling over a wounded woman with captions claiming he had been waiting to propose to his girlfriend (who was presumably killed). This has been disproven, but it bothers me when I see people mindlessly retweet things or try to make an already tragic event even more emotionally heart-wrenching just because it “shares” better.

      I know I’m probably guilty of having shared articles or other pictures without fact-checking all of them, but I try not to just pass things along without a second thought. We definitely have a responsibility to minimize the chaos and misinformation wrought by the instantaneous nature of social media.

  2. I’m glad you mentioned the auto setup, because that’s probably (I hope) what happened. It’s a good reminder not to simply forget about the messages, blogs, etc. we have scheduled to go out.

  3. Well said. Read a similar post from Jon Loomer Digital. He’s not as against automation as you are, but some good advice none-the-less.

  4. A hammer is just a hammer until it is used intentionally or unintentionally to cause harm. We need to be just a responsible with Social media.Thanks for your sensitive yet pointed post.

  5. Hi Kristen,
    Thanks for pointing out another reason automation isn’t the greatest way to go. I know I ignored some folks yesterday because of automated tweets. I saw several people tweet just after the explosions to remind others to turn off automated tweets. I also saw a news article about how social media was the cause for more accurate journalistic reporting. I’m glad to know that journalists can feel the sting if they jump the gun too.
    Melinda P.

  6. A great read.
    Something to think about.
    Mourning is such an individual process.
    It should be respected but how to do that in regards to a nation?

  7. I do my utmost NOT to respond to an event in any less that 24 – usually 48 hours (unless I’m there and can actually materially contribute aid). I was a passenger in a vehicle involved in a crash which caused a fatality. At some point I bought myself to read a newspaper article about the incident – as far as I could tell the reporter was in an alternate universe. Since then I am very slow to accept the first spurt of reports and try to sift through things at a later date to see what really might have happened. Reacting to the first news reports is rarely productive and usually harmful.

  8. I got a slap on the wrist last night as well. The truth is I was not trying to be insensitive at all. I was trying to get my husband home. He ran Boston and somehow in the chaos that followed lost his ID. This wouldn’t be a big deal but with tightened security we were pretty sure that he would not be able to get on the plane without an id so I tweeted. If you find my husband’s ID in Boston, please let me know without explanation of why. Received a very nasty tweet after that about people being hurt and killed. The truth is that sometimes people are over sensitive and lash out. That was one of those times. BTW, I saw several preprogramed tweets yesterday. Skipped right by them. Never thought twice, “What a ass.” But I am in social media so I do give extra slack and I realize that not everyone gets it.

  9. This is an important post, thank you. I abhor automation for social media. This explains why it’s a bad idea.

    Lately I am also getting messages via LinkedIn once I accept a connection with someone. They are not just a friendly “thank you”, but a self-promotional message. (Like: check out my book! You can order it here!) I don’t appreciate that, either. If I connect with someone and I enjoy what they write about, I will naturally seek out their books. Send me an ad, and I’ll purposely avoid those books. Have you done a post on this subject, Kristen?

    1. I have, just not in a while. I am 100% against impersonal auto-promotion. Yes, it means maybe everyone won’t hear from me or I can’t be omnipresent, but to me authenticity is more powerful and far more appreciated. I don’t like spam, so I don’t feed it to others. Thanks for the comment.

  10. I’m very new to the twitterverse, so this is so helpful and appreciated. I always strive to be a genuine and authentic person and this has made Twitter a bit of a daunting monster to understand and use effectively and sensitively.

  11. Thanks, Kristen. These are important points about social media and automation. Social media saves lives, and it can also spread important news quickly. It probably saved many families personal anguish about their loved ones running in the marathon. My daughter got a text message from her son in Boston before she heard on TV about the bombs going off. We were all so grateful for that. Of course, we share the anguish of those families whose lost loved ones were killed, wounded, or experienced the shock of a beautiful day and event tragically tarnished.

  12. Thank you, Kristen. Beautifully and thoughtfully written. While I appreciate everyone who retweets my posts, I REALLY wish people would stop automating them. To be honest, I opted to stay off of social media yesterday because I KNEW it would be unpleasant for me psychologically. I hope people remember that the greatest lessons of these kinds of tragedies is that we CAN make a difference by reaching out to each other — even just one person.

  13. A similar case happened last year when the shooting in Aurora, Colorado occurred. A British clothing site thought #Aurora meant their Kim Kardashian inspired “Aurora” dress was trending and they made a tweet about it – resulting in a massive backlash. They apologized and removed the tweet. Just shows how important it is to be vigilant when it comes to social media, and to always monitor what is happening all over the world.

  14. Valuable comments. Going to be awhile for some of those folks to heal, both physically and emotionally. And the truth is, we are all vulnerable. Scary.

  15. Reblogged this on Blue Heron Writes and commented:
    Kristen makes some important points about handling Social Media like Twitter responsibly.

  16. Very true, Kristen. When I saw all those auto tweets, it did make my stomach roll a little. But actually, when I see auto tweets on a daily basis I start to unfollow those people anyway.
    My prayers go out to all of those touched by this horrible horrible tragedy.

  17. My daytime job is a Business Continuity Professional. This includes emergency response and disaster recovery. Social Media is becoming a larger part of disaster planning because it works when other forms of communication do not. The problem with relying on it for emergency response communication, as you have stated, is that not everyone understands the responsibility of using it and the reliability of the information being communicated is questionable. It is my hope that as these communication formats mature, the users will mature as well and this important communication tool can be leveraged to a greater extent during a crisis.

  18. Excellent.

    I didn’t see much of my writing community crossing the line and promoting their books and blogs. I certainly didn’t even think about it.

    My late grandmother aka “gram” used to tell me, “if it don’t feel right, it ain’t right.”

  19. People forget how dangerous and destructive social media can be. Thank you for reminding us. I think there are uses for every social media outlet but people need to remember to use them correctly and wisely. Genuine interactions are always best.

  20. Thank you Kristen for reminding us that there is still sense in a sometimes senseless world. Very classy! You do an awesome job of helping the rest of us to acquire as much class. 🙂 My heart breaks for Boston. My prayers for all who are involved.

  21. Thanks for the reminder of what we need to know. It is heartbreaking that people can be so cruel. I am posting this to SAWG and SARA on FB.

  22. Reblogged this on Tara Kingston.

  23. Thanks Kristen for such a heartfelt post. My thoughts and prayers are with all affected.

  24. Interesting. I was wondering how blog posts would be perceived today based on what happened yesterday. You wonder, should you just not post for a few days? Almost any topic seems insincere in the aftermath. I guess this is why I have stayed off Twitter today, and most of the other social media sites. Since I’m new at blogging, I have kept away from automation altogether–choosing to write my posts individually. I know It takes a little more time but I feel it’s good to keep up the sincerity at least in the beginning and I wish others would do the same. I’m more likely to open something a person wrote, vs. something that comes via a twitter or other “feed”. thanks for your thoughtful post!

    1. Robin,

      That is a GREAT question. Trust me when I say I struggled with this post. I wondered if I should not post at all, but then I felt this was a really powerful and necessary topic. I debated all morning and even asked my husband. But I made a choice and prayed that the blog would be taken with the love that was intended. We are in a new world and figuring out new rules daily.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      1. I appreciate this post a lot because it doesn’t trivialize what happened, and you didn’t call the Kim K out on a witch hunt either. You simply pointed out an example of how auto tweets hurt social platforms just as much as they can promote. And you’re probably right that an intern got fired. the likelihood that Kim or her mom actually scheduled those promo tweets is extremely unlikely.

        1. The sad part to me was the REAL Kim was offering love and condolences and the automation distracted from that and redirected the discussion down a negative path. I am sure Kim is very embarrassed. Though I am not one who keeps up with the Kardashians, I am fairly sure they were far more concerned with supporting Boston than promoting their goods. It was just a bad oops at the wrong time, but we can learn and grow and use this bad situation to be more loving and responsible in how we use social media.

      2. I think your angle on this was perfect; you brought out good discussion and debate for all of us to learn. thanks again!

    2. Robin, I totally hear you. I’ve been thinking about Boston all day, as I spent 4 months working there and remembering the amazing people who embraced a Canadian in their midst. I want to write about that, but I don’t want it to appear self-serving. So I’ve decided to wait a bit before posting, so it doesn’t seem like I’m self-promoting.

  25. I actually thought the same thing about a few celebrities I follow who are clearly using a scheduler. While I didn’t get mad, it was annoying to see their tweet in my feed at that moment. I actually postponed a blog I had been planning because it wasn’t good timing. I think Patton Oswalt’s simple statement on Facebook shows how classy a response can be. Clearly if you are using automation do your best to turn it off if something big happens like this. Great post.

  26. Reblogged this on Don't Call Me Sugar and commented:
    Great post on how automated twitter posts can hurt your social capital during a disaster.

  27. Reblogged this on .

  28. i unfollowed someone yesterday because of their promo tweets. I saw other stuff that was passable, especially early on you could tell not everyone knew yet. But this case was a several tweet chain, and when I pulled up their feed, it was all promo tweets. Not sure how I ever followed them in the first place. That was just too tacky.

  29. Reblogged this on Laura Ritchie's Blog and commented:
    You know, I never really liked the idea of automated tweets or messaging. It just takes all the “social” out of social media, so what’s the point? But, now we see a prime example of how something like this can come around and bite you in the rump. So sad, because after such a tragedy, this isn’t something people will forget quickly. Anyway, here’s an interesting post by Social Media Jedi, Kristen Lamb.

  30. I hope that the Boston law enforcement will get to the truth. I hope that it is not used to create a war somewhere else and the justice does not kill innocent people in mass numbers in a different place. I like watching Marvel Comics and DC movies, but in reality, to save one person or inflict justice with many dying or private properties are destroyed, it should not be copied. I hope; the justice deals with the criminals involved. The talk of the one lone wolf army (Norway) could lead to destroying a defenseless country, because the lone wolf lived there for a couple of weeks several years ago and the information was needed to be extracted.

  31. These are time s that frustrate us. Our citizens are put at risk and the governments in these countries make nice noise but do nothing. When we are attacked on our own turf it brings out the inner asshat in us. We want immediate justice or at least vengeance. We have to stop and think. We have to let the people who’s job it is to deal with this to proceed. We have to pray for the survivors and learn humanity.

    1. Agree a 1000%. Evil is always frustrating and bewildering.

  32. Here is a perfect example of automation gone wrong after the earthquake in Haiti.

  33. Thank you very much Kristen for this blog post!! How come I’m not surprised to read a Kardashian name? *sigh*

    • LillyMarge on April 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm
    • Reply

    A thoughtful post, Laura, well said! New opportunities to share with one another come with their own rules, mostly discovered as we go along this unfamiliar path.

    • J. F. Smith on April 16, 2013 at 5:30 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you for a very heartfelt post. I live just outside of Boston – the majority of my friends are right in the city – and some of my best friends were right there at the finish line. We feel so violated; we are right on Boylston Street all the time.

    My husband and I are in Aruba right now and we holed up in our little room in paradise last night and couldn’t tear ourselves away from the TV and the internet. Reaching out to loved ones, checking Facebook, getting texts from people who didn’t know that we’re away… it is a nightmare. We’re in paradise, and we just want to be home.

    Ironically, I had a blog post scheduled for today that was all about news headlines. I can’t believe the ones that I’m seeing today. (I’m not going to post the link because I’m avoiding self-promo at a time like this.)

    There is a link on right now that has pictures of all of the support from around the country. It is truly amazing to see the outpouring of love and affection from all these places. Thank you for your support.

    • Rachel Thompson on April 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm
    • Reply

    I hate social media. If this is what it takes to sell books I’ll give them away.

    1. I don’t believe in social marketing and spam. I believe in community. Social media just takes what authors have done for decades and makes it accessible to a wider audience. Writers did tours, book signings, socials, speeches, mixers, readings, and talked to people as human beings for generations. Social media just invites more people to join. It isn’t the tool, rather the intent. But I can appreciate how you feel.

  34. So, the F.B.I. will try to get an exact duplicate of the bag, which they believe carried the pressure cooker, to the location. They will ask for video surveillance cameras and security footage to look for people who could have carried the bag. They will even be asking if private video recordings recorded someone carrying the bag. Cell phone cameras or tablet cameras might have captured the bag on film and follow it to the location to get a suspect with proximity and opportunity. Social Media, like FACEBOOK and Twitter, could help identify the bag carrier. I write novels.

  35. Unfortunately, this mistake ended up being made because everyone is focusing on the metrics. Numbers of follows is perceived to show success, and a certain number of tweets have to be sent out round the clock to catch people in different time zones.

    1. Metrics are evil and don’t reflect reality, but that’s just my opinion.

  36. So good of you to bring this into limelight. Many others (myself included) don’t have the guts to point out big personalities. Great.

  37. Reblogged this on justaweirdthought.

  38. The whole Boston fiasco had affected me so deeply (I’m from there.) that I honestly didn’t pay any attention to SM this week. Oh, I was on, but it was sporadic and minimal. Missed the Kardashian accidental faux pas.

    Interestingly, I had been considering incorporating automated tweets to supplement my feed. I’ve noticed that a lot of influencers I follow use them for their informational tweeting, and I thought, it seemed like a good idea. Not going down that road now, thanks to you. Great article, Kristen.

  39. Reblogged this on Life after work.

  1. […] Lamb has a wonderful post this morning about the event and the dark side of twitter. It reminded me of all the ugly tweets […]

  2. […] UPDATED at 12:30pm PDT: It seems I’m not the only one with these thoughts. Check out the following article, Boston Marathon Bombing Reveals the Best in People and a Dark Side to Twitter. […]

  3. […] Boston Marathon Bombing Reveals the Best in People and a Dark Side to Twitter ( […]

  4. […] Lamb points up one of the dangers of using automated social media with the brouhaha that exploded after Kim Kardashian’s […]

  5. […] Three words: BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING. […]

  6. […] Then, The Boston Marathon Bombing tragically demonstrated the point I’d been trying to make for almost five years. Even well-crafted pre-programmed tweets are still SPAM. Our world changes on a dime and instantly. Many authors ended up in hot water because, “Buy my book, now FREE!” posted in the midst of a tragedy. And the time spent undoing the damage to the author brand probably exceeded that time “saved” by automating tweets. […]

  7. […] NOTE: This post is not referring to those who use automation sparingly and respectfully (I.e. Those who only use one or two hashtags and who mix automation with real in-person engagement). Granted, I don’t like ANY automation, but that’s for other reasons we’re not going to discuss today and another post entirely. […]

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