**Note I have not named any of the suspects in this article because the case against them is on going.**
The Boston Marathon bombing suspects are either dead or are now in custody. We can now look back at the night of April 18th to see how the shootout between the suspects and Police happened. Throughout the night of April 18th Americans logged into social media and turned on the Police scanner to follow the manhunt of the Boston Bombers. Now lets take a step back and look at what happened early on in the afternoon. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) decided to release video tapes and images of the bombing suspects’ hoping to get some leads on who the two men are. Soon after the release of Boston Bomber suspects photos on social media, the FBI’s website crashed. The photos of the bomber suspects were plastered all over social media.
A website called Reddit even had a chat room created called “find the bomber” in which people from all over the world attempted to breakdown and analyze the photographs and images from the attack. Looking back on the evening of the 18th, social media came alive. The bombing suspects were tracked down by the Boston Police Department after the suspects killed a police officer on the campus of MIT and stole a Mercedes. A big gun battle was soon to occur. The first reports given was that automatic weapons and homemade explosives were being used against the Police. At this time many people including me jumped onto the Police scanner to see what was going on. The television news media still had not picked up the story about a live shooter causing many people to question if the shooting had been made up.
As more news began to emerge about the ongoing shootout between the Police and the suspects that started at 12:49 EST, the reports were of shots fired in Cambridge. Shots and explosions in Watertown and more people logged onto social media. Anyone who understands about social media and news reporting could say this was the first major story to break world-wide on social media. This was the chance for social media to show how important of a roll it could play during breaking news events. With the news coverage extremely limited during the early events of the shootout many residents of Watertown took out their phones and started taking photos and videos of all the commotion.
The above footage of the shootout was taken by an amateur who lives in the Watertown area. The first news station to have live coverage of the shootout in Watertown was CNN. CNN would become the first news station to be heavily criticised on social media for their coverage of the shootout. The anchor goes to a live shot with a reporter who is live on the scene in which the reporter states there is speculation that the attacks in Boston and this shootout in Watertown are related. As the reporter was nearing the end of her update the anchor interrupted her to say that is just speculation, we have no real facts thus we cannot back up that statement. Once that statement was made one could assume that CNN was going to wait to confirm any information that they were going to release.
People who were using social media had begun to link the shootout with the automatic weapon, homemade grenades and other explosives to those suspects who had bombed Boston. The majority of people using social media, during that shootout were tuned into the Boston Police Department scanner. Thus knowing whats actually going on in live time compared to the news who was delaying updates and video. It is normal for the newscasts to delay their information and videos. The news stations can get into a huge amount of trouble if they show someone being shot or killed on live television. With an event of this magnitude the number one priority of the journalist is to maintain journalistic integrity and report accurate/truthful information.
From what I was able to see there was about a 20 to 40 minute delay of information by the television media. The number of people following the Police scanner at this point in time grew from 20,000 to 80,000 people, thus causing the websites with the police scanners to crash. There were as many as four major sites who had the police scanner embedded all of which got overloaded by hits. Those people who had not gotten onto the police scanner page in time were unable to gain access. At this time social media was going nuts with reports from the police scanners.
Reports were flying around left and right on social media from bloggers who live in the Watertown area and from news journalists. These are a few of the tweets you would have seen if you were watching the coverage of the shootout on social media. The screen grab below is from a Storify article by CMGNationalNews. If you would like to check out the article please click this link.
Who did a better job covering the Boston Man Hunt Social Media or Journalists?
Social Media: Initially social media was doing a great job of reporting during the night of the shootout up untill some suspects were named on a Reddit board. The Reddit board was entitled “find Boston Bombers” (which has been removed from Reddit) in which people attempted to breakdown photos of the Bombers to figure out who they were. The biggest social media blunder of the Boston Shootings took place on Reddit. Someone who was working the case on Reddit found photographs of the supposed suspects and used information from a conversation taking place on the police scanner to name the wrong suspects. We now know that virtually the entire crowdsourced investigating on “FindBostonBombers” prior to Thursday’s FBI press conference was wrong. “FindBostonBombers” speculation was even leaked all the way to the front page of the New York Post. That showed two photos of the men who Reddit claimed were the suspects. Both men were later cleared by authorities. The Reddit feed then became the source of real-time conspiracy theorizing thus proving that reporting on social media can be dead wrong.
Social Media also had another role to play during the days following the bombings in Boston. The suspect was using his Twitter account to send out tweets. Once noticed by BPD (Boston Police Department) they told all units on-screen to change their radios to another channel and to not report any information that would be vital to the arrest of the suspect. BPD also reached out to the public on social media asking them to stop tweeting the information that was being repeated over the police scanner. The biggest problem with receiving information though social media is the information could possibly be incorrect. The one major blunder of the Boston Manhunt for social media is the aforementioned Reddit feed.
To read about how the Boston Police Department used Twitter please click on this link.
Journalists: With the massive evolution of social media this was a time when news media would be able to show the world why accurate reporting is still the way do go during a time of national crisis. Journalists were doing everything they could possibly do to beat the coverage of the bloggers who were stuck in their houses. Some journalists were going behind the caution tape attempting to get photos of the incident. The Daily News and New York Post released the names of the wrong suspects once the names were floating around on social media. The first step for a journalist is to vet the information and make sure that the news is 100 percent accurate but they were now in competition with bloggers who were covering the story and decided to cut corners.
The following media outlets claimed that an arrest had been made in the case: AP, Boston Globe, CNN and Fox News. These outlets have been receiving criticism ever since they announced the false reports on Twitter. The only major news outlet that reported that no arrest had been made was CBS. Now we move into the ethical dilemma in journalism surrounding what is acceptable to post on-line. The Detroit Free Press created a graphic showing how to make a pressure cooker bomb. Other news outlets decided to show pictures of the bombings with a huge amount of blood. Eventually someone got their hands on the autopsy photo of the suspect (way too graphic to be shown on any type of media). If you would like to read about more media mishaps or see photos of the aforementioned tweets please click on this Storify link.To top off the media coverage of the week, even some members of the media who we will not name continued to tweet the information that was coming over the police scanner after BPD asked them to stop.
Now as the news consumer do you feel like social media provided the most accurate information possible? If you have anything you would like to say or would like to answer that is not a possible answer in the poll question please add your comments to the comment section!
Thank You For Reading
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