Twitter featured perhaps the most irresponsible posters. Numerous tweets from liberals immediately blamed the attack on the right. Not to be outdone, some on the right blamed President Obama or radical Islamists. The latter might yet prove to be accurate but at the time, there was no evidence for stating it.
The speed with which information is sent out over social media is a problem. Haste in publishing leads to irresponsible speculation, false information, and unthinking criticism that sometimes goes over the line of decency and propriety.
And then there’s the paranoia. Alex Jones tweeted shortly after the bombing that the attack was a “false flag” operation by the Obama administration.
Jones suggested that the FBI orchestrated the bombings under the false flag of a terrorist organization in order to justify expanded security powers. The Boston attack, he theorized, was staged by the U.S. government to extend the reach of both the Dept. of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration.
“Just wait folks,” the 39-year-old Texan wrote. “#TSA groping you at sporting events coming soon.”
Jones posted a YouTube video further fanning the false-flag flames, saying that reports of a “controlled explosion” drill, scheduled to coincide with the race, was proof that the FBI was behind the Boston Marathon blasts.
A reporter working for Jones’ website InfoWars got to ask a question at the final press conference given by the police and Governor Patrick:
Why were the loud speakers telling people in the audience to be calm moments before the bombs went off? Is this another false flag staged attack to take our civil liberties and promote homeland security while sticking their hands down our pants on the streets?
Of course, there were no announcements made over the loudspeaker telling marathon observers to stay calm prior to the bombing. This is pure fantasy. But it was a fantasy spread by social media.
There is little doubt that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites have enormous potential for both good and bad. Like the internet itself, trying to separate the two is impossible. But like any other freedom we enjoy, responsibility must attend its exercise. Otherwise, our jungle instincts will take over and unintended consequences will flow.