Communication in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing

Journal Article
Publication date: 
David Lazer
Ryan P. Kennedy
Drew Margolin
Communication in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing

Researchers at Northeastern University conducted a survey June 27 to July 5, 2013 to see how people found out about the Boston Marathon bombing, how they attempted to get information about those they feared were physically affected by the bombing, and where they heard incorrect information about the situation. Notable findings include:

• Television is still the dominant means of finding out about the emergency, with about 47% of respondents finding out about the bombings through this medium. Cell phones and electronic media, however, are rapidly increasing in popularity. During the 9/11 attacks only about 5% of respondents reported receiving information from cell phones, computers or tablets. Nearly 30% reported using these media after the Boston Marathon bombing. Learning of the event via cell phone went from about 2% after 9/11 to almost 10% after the Marathon bombing.

• Respondents closer to the emergency event were more likely to find out from their cell phones. Younger people were also much more likely to find out information from their cell phones. Of those who learned of the situation by cell phone, 52% were under age 40 and 94% were under 60. Interestingly, African Americans are less affected by this trend than other groups. They were almost 12% more likely to learn about the events through TV than other groups, and were 14% less likely than other groups to learn from a cell phone, computer, or tablet.

• Cell phones are the dominant means for gathering information about people about whom respondents were concerned might have been physically affected. Those further from the incident were more likely to use e-mail or Facebook, while people within Boston tended to prefer texting over calling.

• Television was also the primary means by which people heard false information (e.g. the JFK Library had been bombed) in the wake of the bombing. Those closer to the bombing were more likely to hear false information from face-to-face contact, but they were also the most likely to subsequently hear that the rumor was false. For example, 48% of residents of Massachusetts heard that there was no bombing of the JFK Library, while only 24% of people from other states heard that this rumor was false.

• People in Massachusetts responded much more emotionally than residents of other states. For example, 60% of Massachusetts residents reported being “very angry” and 51% reported being “very frightened” or “somewhat frightened,” versus 45% and 28% for the rest of the country

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