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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/18/13

The Psychology of the Boston Marathon Bombing

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The day that exploding bombs rocked the Boston Marathon finish line, any faith I lost in humanity was immediately restored by what I saw and learned about the vast, prompt outpouring of support.

Not only could you see on CNN bystanders bolting into the chaos to help the victims, but directories of the runners' whereabouts and open houses in Boston were linked all over the social media. Also, I received countless calls from readers of my paper who wondered if the runners we featured in a prior story were okay. That outpouring of concern was one of the most refreshing things I have experienced in a long time.

After the FBI identified the bombing suspects, a manhunt ensued to capture the brothers, 26-year-old Tamerlan and 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarneav, and bring them to justice. The first night of the manhunt, Boston law enforcement engaged in a deadly shoot-out with these two men while the entire world became vengeful voyeurs by tuning into the coverage to watch the story unfold. The events resulted in the deaths of the older brother, Tamerlan, and an MIT campus cop, Sean Collier. In addition, many false stories were fabricated by media outlets like CNN and the New York Post as they tried to get a scoop on breaking events.

When I heard that the older brother, Tamerlan, had been killed, I didn't care, because I didn't know him. Also, he had made his own choice to brutally attack innocent people trying to have a good time. However, I was very disturbed by the behavior of a few of my Facebook friends who lived a long way away in Georgia. Even though they had no connection to the tragedy, they decided to plaster the leaked morgue photo of Tamerlan's blood-soaked, mutilated corpse on their page, along with some profane slang about what happens to anyone who messes with America. I thought about commenting on how unnecessary it was to post such hate-laced, obnoxious propaganda, and also mentioning that I could have gone my entire life without seeing that photo. But I realized that simply blocking these posts would be the better option.

After being disgusted by the behavior of my former Facebook friends, I became curious about the brothers who had turned domestic terrorists, and decided to find out more about them. I discovered that they were active in social media and found Dzkhokhar's Twitter handle, because Buzzfeed had already started picking apart his tweets to diagnose his actions the day he hid bleeding out in the boat. On his site, I found many individuals of like mind to myself, who wanted to see what a killer's Twitter handle looked like. However, on looking further into the seemingly ordinary page of this 19-year-old, I also saw all the death threats he had received. These were from individuals he had never met, including, ironically, one of my former Facebook friends, who had simply got caught up in the thrill of his story. It was disgusting.

It's hard to feel sorry for the Tsarneav brothers, because they ruined the lives of so many innocent people, not to mention completely ending four. But the backlash and blood lust via social media, by people all the way down to Georgia who had no attachment either to the victims or the suspects, caused me to look at this crime in another way. It made me see that solutions to the Boston Marathon bombing, or to any mass tragedies caused by people with a radicalized chip on their shoulder, don't lie in black-and-white news accounts or postings in the social media. Real solutions start with the individual and something as simple as a change in attitude.

Many lives have been forever altered by the Boston bombings, and long after all the journalists pack up and leave Boston for good, the world will continue to move on inexorably without the Tsarneav brothers. But it's important to realize that the brothers were made famous by those who tuned in to the coverage and needed to be in the know. For the sake of the victims affected that week, we have to stop being one of those people. We need to quit giving our political, stigmatizing opinions about the ordeal and understand that similar attacks could happen anywhere.

What I like about people who don't watch the news all day is that they don't ever want to see a picture of anyone at their absolute worst--like those circulating in the social and mass media after the Boston bombings that showed the fallen and captured brothers or the victims hurt in the race. Any act of terrorism, like a mass shooting or bombing, has a psychological impact, and it's easy to feel victimized when others sit anonymously behind a computer screen and post a gory morgue photo or death threat, or debate and insult someone about an issue on Facebook or a chat thread. Instead of picking an issue apart with our opinions, we need to start expecting nothing but the best from one another. We need to stop personalizing what isn't explainable, and start being respectful and not believe in obnoxious conspiracy theories.

To me, all the deplorable social media posts are proof that getting caught up in anything and becoming radicalized can happen to anyone. The brink is horrifying, but it's no longer pertinent to expose societal fractures by pushing a polarizing political agenda and thinking it will result in positive change. Instead, people must be willing to selflessly immerse themselves in the muck, pull the suffering back from peril before they jump off the brink, and strive to prevent the horrors of terrorism by continuing to battle for the good in humanity. We must finally begin to learn from our tragedies instead of feeling victimized.

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Is an aspiring writer and advocate on mental illness awareness.

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