As chaos reigned in the hours after twin explosions detonated on Boylston Street near the finish line of the storied Boston Marathon, social media outlets became a lifeline between runners, spectators and the outside world on Monday.
Two powerful devices exploded in quick succession near the Boston Marathon finish line. With tens of thousands of runners milling about the finish line, or stranded on the 26.2 mile course, social media including Facebook and Twitter became a lifeline, with cellular and landline access into and out of the Boston area overloaded.
Photo and video uploaded to social networks like Twitter provided some of the first images of the attack. Bruce Mendelsohn (@brm90) was attending a race-day party immediately above the location of the first explosion and provided some of the most widely circulated photos of the resulting carnage on Boylston Street. Mendelsohn said the blast blew him off his feet, but he kept a running commentary on the response via his Twitter account.
"Cellphone service is down in #Boston. Use #texts #email, or #social media," he tweeted hours after the explosion.
Kristin (Lawhorn) Higden, a first-time Boston runner, crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 28 minutes, less than 30 minutes before the explosions. She said she was taking photos with her husband and mother in the family meeting area close to the finish line when the blasts went off.
"I really thought it was another 9-11, it was that loud," she said. As chaos erupted in downtown Boston, Higden said that text messaging and cell phone access were spotty.
"Text messages weren't really working, same with phone calls," she told ITworld. "It was more Facebook than anything. People were writing on my wall and asking if I was OK."
Other friends reached out to Higden over her Instagram, account, Higden said.
Higden wasn't alone. With many runners separated from their cell phones, and family and friends anxious for news, Facebook and Twitter quickly became conduits for information about their wellbeing. Phrases like #prayforboston and #bostonmarathon were among the top terms trending on Twitter Monday.
Concerned residents turned to Facebook for information on blood donations to help victims and to check up on
And, with thousands of runners diverted from the Boylston Street finish line towards Boston Common, Google stepped up with Google Person Finder, a simple tool that helps people locate each other in an emergency. The tool was tracking 4,600 people late Monday.