#BostonStrong in the Face of Terror
Rose de Fremery

On Monday, the city of Boston suffered a terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon. We do not yet know who is responsible or what their motive might have been. As of now, three lives have been claimed including that of eight-year-old Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, and Lu Lingz. Others remain in critical condition, with limbs missing or damaged by shrapnel. Well over 100 people were injured by the blasts.

As a Massachusetts native and longtime New York resident, I hurt for those affected in my home state while remembering well the traumatic experience of 9/11. Many people I know here in New York feel a special, sad kinship with their neighbors to the north.

Like many, I first learned of Monday’s attacks via social media. As a die-hard Red Sox fan, I was already connected to a large number of Sox fans on Twitter, some of whom I consider good friends. A few of them live in the Boston area. I had just seen them in person a week ago at Fenway Park for a glorious Opening Day. I was relieved to learn through Twitter and Facebook that they were safe and sound, if profoundly shaken and disturbed by the terror that had been visited upon their city. My Twitter feed instantly began to flow with first-hand accounts from those who had just been in harm’s way, rippling through with updates and news flashes on the developing story.

As now often happens during major news events, calls quickly arose urging Twitter users to use prudence and caution when retweeting either unsubstantiated reports or graphic photos. Others rightly warned social media managers and brands to refrain from sending scheduled or promotional tweets as they would be grossly inappropriate on such a tragic day. The #BostonHelps hashtag soon emerged, with Bostonians opening their homes by the hundreds to marathon runners who had no place to go. Conflicting accounts circulated on whether or not cell service had been shut down throughout the city to prevent the remote detonation of additional bombs. Later in the evening, as Boston tried to sleep, I saw expressions of fear, uncertainty and, moreover, of love for the city proliferate through my stream.

I thought back to September 11, when my adopted city was attacked. In 2001, there was no such thing as social media and text messaging had not yet taken hold in the United States. I remember that we too had intermittent and unreliable phone service in the wake of the attacks. After the Twin Towers had been hit, I initiated a dialup connection to my local ISP and sent an email to loved ones right away, knowing full well that I might not be able to connect later. Friends living in Japan, where I had just spent three years teaching English in a rural coastal town as part of the JET Programme, had already heard the news and sent concerned emails my way. The messages momentarily brightened my spirits, but I felt otherwise frightened and alone with increasingly dire news from a nearby television filling my ears and fighter jets roaring overhead.

Although some people rightly stress the importance of self-care during traumatic incidents, including unplugging from social media and broadcast news at the right moment, I’m grateful that we can now share the experience with one another—for better or worse—online when a crisis hits. Feelings of isolation are among the most difficult aspects of grappling with such an event. If you have a community of friends with whom to share what you are going through, I do believe it can make a very positive difference in helping you to make sense of a scary and shifting situation.

Bostonians, like New Yorkers, are known for being tough and resilient. It’s no surprise that #BostonStrong has become the emblematic hashtag to represent this strength in the face of terror over the past two days. Last night, before the Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians, they tweeted a photo of a team jersey reading “617: Boston Strong.” (617 is the telephone area code for Boston.) Meanwhile, the New York Yankees announced that they would play the song “Sweet Caroline” in honor of Boston that evening. I know that Boston will overcome this crisis as did New York. In the meantime, our neighbors in New England need our support. If you are looking for ways to help, The One Fund and Massachusetts General Hospital are good places to start.

Rose de Fremery is Managing Editor of The Social Media Monthly.