The advent of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites has provided numerous public forums for anyone, anywhere to post up to the minute information. And now that so much of the population has smartphones, recording videos or taking pictures and posting them online has never been easier. However, is this ability for anyone to post online good or bad for police investigations? In light of the terrorist attacks on Boston, did the crowdsourcing of social media actually help expedite the capture of one of the suspects or prolong the investigation by distracting the police?
Although there are many pros to social media when analyzing these questions, it is also necessary to weigh the cons. Specifically, the attacks on Boston led to numerous inaccurate social media reports. CNN put out an article entitled “5 viral stories about Boston attacks that aren’t true”. In class, we learned what it meant to be a ‘citizen journalist’. The fact that so many people have high quality camera phones right in their pocket and Twitter/Facebook applications, allows just about anyone to be the first reporters of any event. However, there is a very important distinction between using social media to report the truth and simply posting about the most recent rumor you’ve heard. Everyone is on the Internet. And once something is out there, it could very well go viral. One of the fake stories discussed in the CNN article had been ‘liked’ on Facebook more than 448,000 times and shared more than 92,000 times just twelve hours after the initial attack in Boston.These stories not only create panic amongst society, they can actually make it harder for investigators. The investigators must first determine whether or not the viral reports are legitimate which may take time away from solving the real crimes.
Honestly though, everything I’ve said thus far has been me playing the devils advocate. Despite the possible panic that could ensue from erroneous posts and the time that investigators may lose trying to determine whether or not some media posts are accurate, I firmly believe that social media is extremely helpful in solving crimes, especially high profile cases or terrorist attacks as exhibited by the events in Boston over the last week. Regarding the investigation and manhunt for the two men responsible for the Boston marathon bombings, an NBC news video discussing the attacks said, “This was the first in a new era of crowd sourced, social media, manhunts…” As I previously mentioned, we learned in class what it meant to be a ‘citizen journalist’, however I find that social media has more so given the general public the opportunity to also be ‘citizen investigators’: a seemingly more appropriate term for the impact and influence that people can have helping the police track down criminals or terrorists. By following updates on the news and social media sites, anyone has the opportunity to contribute to investigations by sending in videos and pictures or reporting suspicious behavior etc. I believe that, in the future, social media will without a doubt continue to successfully assist police investigations as there are very few places for criminals to hide when more people are involved in trying to find them. Imagine how hard it would be to hide when you have everyone in the world looking for you!
My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and the families of the victims from the recent bombings. #PrayForBoston