Blog Post

Digital Literacy and the Boston Marathon Bombing

Why do students—and faculty members—need digital literacy skills?  It is too easy to mouth platitudes about how we are bombarded with information and we need to be able to organize and judge the credibility of the content with which we are presented.  But what exactly does this mean?

At 2:56 pm yesterday, the first of two explosions took place near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.    During the next five hours my Facebook news feed was alive with information about the events unfolding in Boston and reactions of it to people around the country. Without digital literacy skills, how can we and our students hope to critically navigate such a plethora of information, evaluate the credibility of what was posted, and then respond to events that happened yesterday in Boston and which are still unfolding today?

 At 3:43pm, a Facebook friend posted a link to a New York Times article about the bombing; an article that has since been modified and updated in such a way that what appeared on-line yesterday is not what appears on the link today.  At 4:22pm, the first meme concerning the Boston Marathon bombing appeared on my FaceBook news feed.  The meme had been created by Yankees Suck and Their Fans are the Dumbest People on the Planet at 3:56pm.  I saw it posted for the second time on my news feed at 5:32pm.  By 10:30pm, 4,084 individuals had shared the image.    At 4:49pm, the second meme appeared.  The meme had been created by Sun Gazing at 3:53pm.  At 10:39pm, it had 133,894 shares. At 5:26pm, a friend reposted an image that appeared in the Wall Street Journal at 5:17pm; an image taken by John Tlumacki of the Boston Globe which had been released via Getty Images. By 10:44pm, 1,007 individuals had shared this image.  At 5:32pm, the Boston Tip Line was posted by a colleague from Northern Michigan.  At 5:36pm, I read that a Saudi national was in custody.  When I did a Google search using “Saudi Boston Marathon” as search terms, I learned that the Saudi national was a person of interest, was being questioned, but was not in custody.  Later, it was reported by the Boston Globe and other news sources that the Saudi man is “believed to be a university student in ­Boston” who happened to be in the area.  “Investigators did not characterize the man as a suspect.”  At 6:05pm, I read an innocent posting concerning this “being a sad day for our nation.”  At 9:05pm, this thread was hijacked by someone who  criticized the Obama administration arguing that those responsible for the bombing will “go by the way side just like Benshazi.”  At 6:42pm, the first prayer was posted by a friend in Minneapolis; a prayer that Rabbi Jason Klein from the University of Maryland had posted at 6:23pm.  Rabbi Klein had reprinted the prayer from Ritual Well.  At 6:54pm, someone posted a “much needed perspective [for] today” because “A U.S. Bomb Kills 30 at an Afghan Wedding.”  Also at 6:54pm, someone reposted George Takei’s observation that “When tragedies strike, heroes rise to meet the challenge” which Takei had posed just 21 minutes earlier at 6:33pm.  By 7:05pm, George Takei’s words had been attached to a photograph taken by John Tlumacki which had been posted by The Boston Globe. I Love it When I Wake Up in the Morning and Obama is President was responsible for this posting.  I had first seen the image with Takei’s words associated with it when a friend shared the link at 7:59pm.  At 7:10pm, I learned that, at around 3:53pm Erik Rush had tweeted, “Everybody do the National Security Ankle Grab! Let’s bring more Saudis in without screening them.  C’mon!”  At around 4:06pm Bill Schmalfeldt had asked Rush if he were already blaming the Muslims.  At 4:16pm, Rush responded, “Yes. they’re evil.  Let’s kill them all.”  Rush deleted his tweet, but a screen capture preserved what Rush had tried to eliminate.  The screen capture of his words now appears on several websites such as Liberals United and Right Wing Watch; many of which are using it to bash conservatives.  At 7:21pm, the Buddhist Geeks reflected on the bombing.  At 7:27pm, a friend in San Francisco reported “Bomb sniffing dogs in Embarcadero station and police at most crossings downtown.”  At 7:28pm, “a WORLD citizen” commented that “The US asks for it. We are such sanctimonious pricks.”  At 7:29pm another hero story, this one was about NPR host Peter Sagal, was posted.  At 7:57pm, a friend posted  a Christian response from Praying People asked God—in Jesus’ name—to help the people in Boston.  The image/prayer had originally been posted at 5:19pm and by 11:55pm had been shared 525 times and had received 2,385 likes.  At 7:59pm, a friend shared the Catholic Church’s photo with the message “Please pray with us for those injured in Boston.”  At 9:29pm, a commenter used the prayer as a vehicle to attack the Obama administration.  The image/message had been created by the Catholic Church at 3:39pm.  By 11:59pm, 31,369 people had liked the image and 5,876 people had shared it.  The following morning, the Catholic poster criticisized CNN analyst Peter Bergen while claiming that the Boston bombing  “will obviously be shown to be a Muslim Jihadist orchestrated bombing.” At 8:12pm, I learned that Doug Lorman had posted a six second video of the explosion on Vine; a video he had recorded from his television.  Within 55 minutes, the video had been tweeted more than 15,700 times and had been seen by more than 35,000 people.  At 8:11pm, I read a reflection by a nurse from Newton, Massachusetts in which she commented on television violence.  A colleague from another Michigan community college had commented one minute after the nurse had posted her reflection.  At 8:17pm, after doing some research on the veracity of the information in George Takei’s 6:33pm posting, I posted a note about how runners in the Boston Marathon had continued on to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood.  I included the comment that at 5:28pm, it had been reported that the Red Cross had stated that “There is currently enough blood on the shelves”   but that blood would be needed in the days and weeks ahead.  I added my own comment—clearly labeled—that the need for blood is not just in Boston.  At 9:56pm, my comment was shared on her timeline by a friend in California.  At 10:06pm, a relative commented “I’m surprised that after running a marathon they were able to give.”  At 8:35pm, a friend in Ft. Wayne posted a status update from President Obama:  “On days like this there are no Republicans or Democrats—we are Americans, united in concern for our fellow citizens.”

Between 3:43pm and 8:35pm, other memes, comments, reactions, and reflections were posted.  Someone incorrectly observed that April 15 is the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and others expressed concern for friends and relatives in Boston. And all of this was primarily from only one source of information about the Boston Marathon bombing:  my personal Facebook news feed.

As of about 2:56pm today—twenty four hours after the first Bomb exploded at the finish line, a Google search using the terms “Boston Marathon Bombing” resulted in 1,850,000,000 hits—and this represents only those websites written in English. A search of “波士頓馬拉松賽轟炸” (Chinese) resulted in 104,000 hits.  “Marathon de Boston attentat” (French) resulted in 95,300 hits.  “Boston maraton bombardování” (Czech) resulted in 3,880,000 hits. “बोस्टन मैराथन हमला” (Hindi) resulted in 4,810 hits.

Try navigating, evaluating, and responding to this amount of information without digital literacy skills.


–Steven L. Berg, PhD


(This entry has been cross posted at Etena Sacca-vajjena.)





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