The attack during the Boston Marathon was an event covered by various social media channels in a way we have never seen before. The Boston Police Department not only asked for help from people over Twitter, but once it captured suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the initial announcement was made through its Twitter account.
Even the television news followed suit, interviewing people live on-air via Skype from the area where searches were being conducted and residents couldn’t leave their homes.
While the access to more information was good for law enforcement, not all of it was worthwhile or even helpful. On the contrary, some had unintended consequences for people in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Caught in the “virtual manhunt” were people who were wrongly accused or identified thanks to crowd sourcing tools and sites like Reddit and 4Chan where users could actively piece together photos and come to their own conclusions, factual or not.
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"The FBI kind of opened the door," said Hanson R. Hosein, director of the University of Washington Master of Communication in Digital Media program. "It was almost like it was put up as challenge to them, and they rose to it. ... They can be either really helpful or mob rule."