This tweet on a hastily created account wrongly claimed that two 8-year-olds were killed in the Boston bombings.
From Twitter
This tweet on a hastily created account wrongly claimed that two 8-year-olds were killed in the Boston bombings.

Story highlights

On social media, untrue stories about the Boston terror attacks have gone viral quickly

One photo falsely purported to show a man who had planned to propose to his girlfriend

People believed cell phone service was shut down by authorities, but it wasn't

Tragedy shows "best and worst" of Twitter, media professional says

Editor’s Note: Doug Gross covers consumer technology and the Web for CNN.com. Follow him on Twitter, and add him to your Circles on Google+.

CNN —  

In the aftermath of dramatic events like Monday’s bombing attack at the Boston Marathon, it’s a truth of our times that millions of people will get early bits of news via social media.

To be sure, sites like Twitter and Facebook were used extensively by police, relief groups and governments to share important information about the bombings. But there’s also a more unfortunate side to how the Web responds to sudden bad news.

Sometimes accidentally and sometimes maliciously, false information gets loose. And in the rapid-fire digital echo chamber, it doesn’t take long to spread.

“On days like this, Twitter shows its best & worst: loads of info at huge speed, but often false & sometimes deliberately so,” said Mark Blank-Settle, of the BBC College of Journalism, in a post on the site.

As always, news discovered online (or anywhere else, really) should be double-checked before it’s passed along – especially in times of tragedy.

Here are some of the most widely shared untrue news items we’ve found on social media in the past 24 hours.

Man planned to propose, girlfriend killed

Among the many gripping images to emerge from the bombing’s aftermath was one of a man in a red shirt, kneeling on the ground cradling a woman in his arms. It went viral – with a heartbreaking, but fake, story attached.

This Boston Globe photo from the attack's aftermath went viral, but with a fake story attached to it.
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
This Boston Globe photo from the attack's aftermath went viral, but with a fake story attached to it.

“The man in the red shirt planned to propose to his girlfriend as he crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon, but she passed away” it reads. “Most of us will never experience this amount of emotional pain.”

The image is, in fact, real. It comes from the Boston Globe and was shared through Getty Images. But the agency’s caption merely describes the scene as a man comforting an injured woman at the finish line.

That didn’t stop it from making the rounds in a big way. A somewhat misleading Facebook account pretending to represent actor Will Ferrell (it calls itself a “parody” but has 385,000 likes) shared the post. By Tuesday morning, the picture had more than 448,000 “likes” and had been shared over 92,000 times.