One Bostonian’s Thoughts On Social Media

 MA Cambridge Charles River view of Boston


How does one begin to carry on with one’s life and work when the tide of history overwhelms a society?  This week I have had numerous conversations with colleagues about the myriad and often conflicting ideas and feelings we have been asked to hold alongside each other.  Initially I had been asked by one supervisee if I was going to write about the bombings in Boston, and my immediate response to him was, “No.”  I have seen too many colleagues either consciously or unconsciously use their social media to self-promote during times of tragedy.  Although I am a believer in the importance of self-promotion in building one’s business, this is not the time.

Hundreds of people in my Twitter feed and online seem to agree.  From therapist to marketing types, people noticed when your automatic Tweets continued unabated as the events of this week were unfolding.  And whether they were individual or enterprise level businesses, the response was pretty much the same, “turn it off.”

And I agree, now is not the time to self-promote one’s business or market, which ironically leaves those of us with social media back at where Web 2.0 all began.  Not for marketing, but for community.

So what I did want to discuss today I sincerely hope will be heard as sharing thoughts and feelings across the range of you all, who reading this are to some extent part of my community.  And why I want to discuss the topic of social media today is to offer some ideas to keep in mind as we go through the next piece of our history together.

Social media collapses time and space.  As I listened from my locked down house simultaneously to Twitter, the police scanner via Broadcastify, Facebook and other platforms, I heard firsthand how information and misinformation could spread far more quickly than it could have on 9/11.  Social media use and technology in general played a huge part in the ability to share, identify and ultimately capture one suspect.  It also hindered investigation at times by creating chatter that looped back to law enforcement in ways that were more confusing than helpful.

As someone who lives 2 miles from the explosions, a mile from where Patrol Officer Collier was killed, and far too close to the 7-11 and site of the carjacking, the week and especially last 48 hours were horrifying, confusing and anxiety-provoking for me.  But social media allowed me to reach out to friends, family, and colleagues, collapsing space in a way that brought a lot of comfort and support.  I can’t say enough about the gratitude I felt that the ping of Facebook and Twitter were heard consistently amidst the constant sirens and other sudden noises that hypervigilance brings.

Social media helped me express more pride as a Bostonian and New Englander could have ever imagined, as memes like this one popped up on and were shared by me on Facebook:



For those of you who aren’t locals, this pretty much summarizes how we people in the Hub of the Universe are, and how we dealt with things this week.

Unfortunately, social media also collapsed the space between MA and Arkansas, when we were subjected to this Tweet:


As enraging as this post was, social media allowed many of us in Boston to respond to this, including yours truly, with our Bostonian blunt arguments and a dash of humor thrown in:

nate comment

Social Media allowed thousands of people to respond alongside me, causing Bell to say to the Associated Press, “I really didn’t think about it going to Boston and was generally expressing my personal view of how I would have felt in that situation myself.”

This is one thing I hope we all can keep in mind over the next days and weeks, that we can remember the power of social media to collapse space and time and reach and impact a global and thus diverse audience.  Such a collapse can help bring comfort or quicken the pace of misinformation; bring a city together or divide a nation.

Social media amplifies feelings and emotions.  I hope colleagues can keep this in mind as we continue forward through the next days and weeks.  Social media can amplify love and community, and it can amplify hatred and racism.  It can amplify hysteria or reasonable thinking.  Social media can amplify comfort and applause, and it can amplify grief and vicarious trauma.

Please think before you tweet, post or share.  Ask yourself what you are shouting into the village square, what you are bringing to the conversation.  If you think you have something important to say, say it.  When in doubt, refrain.  Turn off your autobots advertising your wares or workshops for a bit.  And above all please remember that you are speaking to people you may not even imagine, whose experience of what has been happening ranges from the loss of an intellectual argument to the loss of a limb to the loss of a loved one.

How does one begin to carry on with one’s life and work when the tide of history overwhelms a society?  I’d like to suggest the answer is, carefully, thoughtfully, humbly and compassionately.


  1. Well said!

  2. Well-articulated. Reflect and respond from a place of calm rather than react from a place of negativity… Vital to give compassion to all suffering.

  3. Nice post and so glad you are safe! I thought about you being so close to it all.

  4. Well said! May the Wind be at your back and Gods Speed while you and Boston work through this trauma.

  5. In response to: “I have seen too many colleagues either consciously or unconsciously use their social media to self-promote during times of tragedy.”

    I feel compelled to do this dance in my head of saying nothing or saying something, with the mutually exclusive consequences of both actions. Saying nothing risks a disconnect with what is going on, while saying something has the potential to be self-serving and self-aggrandizing. When Newton happened, I posted a reflection without referencing the horror onto my Facebook page… I just felt compelled to say something, anything, and it was probably just for me and the audience could choose to block, filter, or unfollow me after seeing these things on their stream. When Boston happened, I don’t know why that hit me harder, but I posted a thing or three during the following day because it weighed so heavily on me.

    Silence is sometimes golden and like with most of my professional career, in these horrible situations, it’s just using one’s best judgement to make commentary.

    • Mike Langlois, LICSW says

      It is a hard balance. Of course, as social workers we are used to having difficult conversations, so we must press on as best we can.

  6. Social media is merely the means to communicate; it is neither good nor bad. But social media has provided those who have a need for drama and self-promotion a perfect platform to ride the coattails of tragedy under the self-serving guise of knowledge or, even more appalling, to justify a political position. For others, it provides a means to keep in touch, to reassure…I have a child attending MIT. But social media obviously feeds an ever-growing hunger among us to communicate with each other, or sometimes AT each other. It must be difficult for those of you in the social work profession; so thank you for acknowledging that it is difficult for you, too, to know how to respond. I would guess that this type of situation was not addressed back when you were a college student; we weren’t experiencing these frequent violent attacks on innocents, and we didn’t have a magic phone in our pockets which could be used to talk about such attacks. We are all in uncharted territory.

  7. During the events in Boston some very thoughtful people from very far away reached out to me on Twitter and Facebook to make sure I was okay. That got me thinking at how life here in Boston was very abnormal while my larger circle of international relationships saw their life going on in very normal ways. I think that puts another layer of complexity into managing social media. I saw some auto posts going on from various people and were annoyed, till I realized they were in London, Dubai, or Sydney. It’s hard, sometimes, in the middle of a crisis, to wonder why the whole world isn’t stopping to be in crisis with me–that is, until another part of the world is in crisis and I barely take the time to stop and notice.

    I remember shortly after 9/11 a professor in grad school played a beautiful piece of choral music for us, invited us to take some time to reflect or comment as we wished, and then we got back to work. She said, “The most important thing we could do–and in fact the only thing we could do–was the work we had in front of us to do. This was a horrible event that happened, and we can best honor this event by doing the good work we are already doing for the world.”

  8. Your response to Nate Bell is hilarious!!


  1. […] From 3,000 miles away, Jackie has crept into my online and emotional life with the secret code of affinity that could only be shared via social media.  We share a love of bone marrow as evidenced by our food pics, and she has forced me to rethink my stance in social media workshops I do where I used to announce to my audience, “Nobody wants to see your food.”  Our dark wit and banter is present more days than not in my FB feeds, I’ve even taken more of an interest in my local sports teams so I can insult hers.  In return she pretends to be a bigot on LGBT issues to bait me.  Although I’ve never told her explicitly, she has reassured me when I worried about how my picture looks online, and comforted me when my city suffered a terrorist attack. […]

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