In the immediate wake of the Boston Bombing on Monday, police took to social media in order to identify suspects. The search among the internet’s “Hive Mind” was controversial, with sites like 4chan identifying people in the crowd that were not responsible for the bombing, and were innocent bystanders.
The errors were not limited to social media of course, as traditional media can be just as disruptive, and morally culpable, in situations like this. The New York Post was responsible for some of the worst reporting in living memory in the wake of the bombing. The paper “confirmed” twelve fatalities in the immediate wake of the Boston Bombing, and printed a picture of an alleged suspect on its first page. The man identified, one of the same identified by 4chan, turned out to be completely innocent.
However, this morning the FBI tweeted a picture of the Boston Bomber who was still at large. The first of the two suspects was killed in police action on Thursday, while the second managed to make an escape. The suspects in the Boston Bombing were named as Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 19 and 26, and were confirmed to be ethnic Chechynans.
Dzhokhar is still on the loose, according to the most recent reports. After tweeting the picture of the suspect this morning, the mood of law enforcement turned definitively against social media. On Friday Twitter users in the Boston area began reporting the positions and activities of the police who were searching the area.
The police department firmly told the public to stop putting the lives of its officers in danger by reporting their location. Soon after that, several sites who were offering live streaming of police scanners from Boston stopped streaming, and one writer at CNET reported that he had been unable to access the streams all day.
A Twitter account emerged earlier today purporting to be that of the suspect still at large. The account was later found to be a hoax, but the information provided in the tweets proved disruptive to law enforcement’s attempts to locate the suspect.
Social media can be a wonderful tool in times of disaster, but it can also be a callous weapon. The unthinking sharing of information on sites like Twitter is dangerous, and it does not help the efforts of law enforcement to track down those suspected of the Boston Bombing.
— Alex Jones (@RealAlexJones) April 19, 2013