Rumors, False Flags, and Digital Vigilantes: Misinformation on Twitter after the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing

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This article discusses how the Boston Marathon bombing story unfolded on every possible carrier of information available in the spring of 2013, including Twitter. It dissects how information spread, how it was filled with rumors, and where many of these rumors contained misinformation.The team’s exploratory research examines three claims, later demonstrated to be false, that circulated on Twitter in the aftermath of the bombings. The findings revealed within this article suggest corrections to the misinformation emerge but are muted compared with the propagation of the misinformation. Of particular note were the similarities and differences observed in the patterns of the misinformation and corrections contained within the stream over the days that followed the attacks.

This article runs on the notion that earlier studies have suggested that crowdsourced information flows can correct misinformation, and this research investigates this proposition, showing that misinformation continues to persist. This source is useful in analyzing how terrorist attacks are covered on social media as they occur and presents a foundation for researchers to begin thinking about how to address the issue of separating useful intelligence from misinformation.


Kate Starbird, Jim Maddock, Mania Orand, Peg Achterman, and Robert M. Mason