The Boston bombers and social media

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- Social media has once again proved to be a critical way for people to stay informed during a tragedy.

“I had my iPhone in my ear, I had my laptop and the TV on in the background too,” said ASU student Terra Bandin.

Many people were using many devices to monitor the search for the Boston marathon bomber.

“I started watching CNN all night then I also saw things on social media, Twitter was buzzing all night,” said Bandin.

It's what millions are talking about on Twitter. Following tweets from legitimate news sources, but also citizen journalists, and even the suspect himself.

Robin Phillips teaches social media at ASU's Cronkite School of Journalism and says all these tools can be helpful in understanding a story but can also make some feel like an expert posting tweets of their own.

“We need to be careful about being too excited about knowing what's going on and getting the news first hand especially if it's wrong,” said Phillips. “The misinformation can be very dangerous.”

Or it may inadvertently put law enforcement at risk.

“I was listening to the Boston scanner which I actually have on my iPhone, I was listening to Boston PD,” said Bandin.

Boston scanner was a popular place for some 150,000 people to monitor law enforcement's every move. But at some point the listeners live tweeting complicated police operations and forced Boston police to tweet out the request to stop.

“You and I are here in Phoenix feeling like we are on the ground because we are listening to scanner traffic or people repeat scanner traffic and it gets very frenetic very quickly,” Phillips said.

Phillips says social media is an incredible investigative and journalistic tool, but notes that users still need to exercise caution.

“You want to definitely consider the source and be very careful about why you need the info now," Phillips warned.