The Boston Bombings: Social Media Ethics

Social media has changed the way we communicate, especially during breaking news situations. Information not only travels fast, but also far and wide. This was definitely the case during the 2013 bombings in Boston. Social media became a place many of us could gather to learn information, communicate with loved ones, or follow the developing situation. Unfortunately, a lot of mis-information was disseminated. Whenever a situation is developing this is bound to happen – even to mainstream, credible journalists (as was the case with CNN) – but social media can amplify it ten fold.

Besides following the situation on social media, many of us turn to it to help those suffering. In this article, Augie Ray, a social media expert, weighs in on the ethical implications of becoming involved in the conversation.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 5.50.26 PMOne example, an NBC station posted a picture of a bombing victim being visited by First Lady Michelle Obama in the hospital. The post asked people to “like” it in support of the boy. Obviously, it generated a lot of engagement. But was it ethical? Ray says “no” and I agree. How tacky?!

No matter what connection this station had with this victim, if any connection at all, what was their intention? If it was to boost their social media engagement for that day, or month, or in general get more exposure — shame on them! If it really was to show support for this victim, they could have definitely worded the post differently. If there was a personal connection with the boy they should have said it. I’m sure, in general, this post would have received a lot of engagement, considering it’s timeliness to the tragedy and the subject matter, despite their poor call-to-action.

I always think when it comes to honoring victims of a tragedy, less is more. This is especially true when it comes to companies weighing in on social media. At it’s core, social media is still about those personal connections, not marketing.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 5.56.54 PMA perfect example of another company who did not take the “less is more” theory into consideration: Ford. The American automaker decided to weigh in by thanking first responders. Sounds nice enough, right? WRONG! Check out the screenshot (right) of the image Ford posted on social media. My thoughts are: great messaging, horrible imagery.

Why be promotional during a tragedy? A simple “thank you” would have gone a long way with fans. If Ford wanted to use imagery they could have used something related to Boston or the tragedy itself (nothing graphic of course, I’m thinking more of a ribbon), not showcase their own models. Again, how tacky!?

Social media is a great way to communicate with fans on any topic, but when it comes to weighing in on national tragedies (or even local ones) businesses must show restraint. Think before you post. If you want to thank first responders, do it! But in a way that doesn’t have a marketing message. It’s not necessary. It’s also important to show restraint and not post unrelated content during these types of situations. That content could also be deemed insensitive. Having a social media manager monitoring trending topics and content development can help your brand stay current and provide appropriate content at any given time.




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