Suspects Can't Evade Social Media's Dragnet
Consider this. The FBI used social media on Thursday afternoon, asking people to share photos of two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings. That a federal law enforcement agency turned to Facebook and Twitter to broadcast images and look to these mediums for new leads in the case is a testament itself to the power of new media.
But just a few hours after releasing those images, the suspects were involved in a string of incidents that lead to one of them being killed and the other going on the lam. Within 12 hours of the FBI employing social media’s power of sharing information, the investigation went into overdrive and at the time of this writing is still an ongoing manhunt for the second suspect. Some law enforcement officials are crediting social media with rooting out these individuals, driving them from their hiding spots and out into the open where they would slip up and identify themselves.
On Friday, social media was not only a vehicle for helping law enforcement identify the suspects, but also as a reporting mechanism, as Twitter beat CNN and the other major local and national news outlets on reporting that police and the suspects were engaged in a gun battle in Watertown, Mass.
MIT professor and reporter Seth Mnookin tweeted at 12:46 a.m. EST, “Shots fired at officers in Watertown.” Then later in the day Facebook and Twitter were used by people to share information, including the license plate number of two vehicles being sought in connection with the ongoing manhunt. One of the vehicles was located within an hour. Twitter was the most powerful of the two tools with hashtags #bostonbombings, #bostonstrong and #manhunt being used to focus the tweets on the particular incident for others to follow and share.
The speed and velocity of which social media fueled investigators’ efforts also led to it hindering the process, as the Boston Police Department asked people not to tweet the location of houses they were searching as they looked for the at-large suspect, fearing it would allow him the opportunity to stay one step ahead of them if he were watching his Twitter feed, which rocketed to 28,000 followers once Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was named a suspect.
The case can be made for and against social media, but it’s hard to see this incident as a negative, as social media was used as a communications mechanism that no doubt kept people informed of the unfolding situation and safe from harm.
Did you use social media to follow the manhunt?