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Boston bombings: Come together, right now, on social media

After the Boston bombings, we, as Americans, rose together in a time of tragedy. Social media accelerated our camaraderie faster than ever. It can sustain it further still, despite some of the downsides of this technology.

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People cheer as police drive down Arlington street in Watertown, Mass., after their successful manhunt for Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev April 19. Op-ed contributor Kevin F. Adler writes: 'When we connect around our shared circumstances....We stop collecting friends and “liking” vacation photos and start engaging each other again as a community.'

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

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A week ago, the breathtaking series of events that followed the Boston Marathon bombings culminated in a suspect’s apprehension in Watertown, Mass., and an exuberant outpouring of relief on the town’s streets – and on Twitter.

We, as Americans, rose together in a time of tragedy. And social media accelerated our camaraderie faster than ever. It can sustain it further still.

The brief emergence of the “therapeutic community” is a well-documented social phenomenon in the aftermath of disasters. In 1961, sociologist Charles E. Fritz observed the ability of disasters to bring people together: People “become more friendly, sympathetic, and helpful than in normal times...in this sense, disasters may be a physical hell, but they result, however temporarily, in what may be regarded as a kind of social utopia.”

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, World War II, and September 11 all yielded ample stories (and occasional studies) documenting a marked increase in social trust, civic mindedness, and sense of togetherness in affected communities.

Americans – and beyond – were part of such a civic renewal last week. On the day of the bombings, posts streamed across Facebook offering prayers, resources, and places to stay. Boston-area friends and marathon runners posted reassuring messages of “I am okay, thank you” on their Facebook walls. One tech entrepreneur purchased BostonMarathonConspiracy.com to prevent a conspiracy theorist from owning it.

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