The Boston Manhunt, Terror and Twitter

Last Friday, as I sat at my desk at TKG “watching” the dramatic conclusion to the Boston Terror plot, like millions of Americans, I chose Twitter as my main source of news information.

Throughout the entire horrific week, Twitter proved itself as a platform to crack stories first – from on the sidelines “reporting” at the Marathon, to up-to-the-second information from police scanners, to a Boston citizen live tweeting the Thursday night shoot-out in Watertown happening outside his window. Seriously.

Boston Police did a fantastic job using Twitter (and Facebook) to inform local residents during the terrifying manhunt. It was essential to warn residents through every means possible to stay off the streets and remain in their homes, and I was glad to see they embraced social media.

So why did so many people – like me – choose to follow the story via Twitter? I have a few ideas. Twitter goes 24/7, reports even the smallest details, never stops for commercial breaks, and never has to fill air time with commentators repeating themselves – probably MY number one reason I chose it over live TV coverage.

And, ahem, smart move on my part; it was not Cable TV News’ finest day. For a comic recap of some of the low moments in TV journalism from last Friday, don’t miss this Jon Stewart clip (warning: there may be a word or two of inappropriate language):

To be fair, though, not all went well on Twitter, either. People tended to jump on any piece of legitimate-sounding news and RT, RT, RT.

One of the first bits of “Twitter trouble” were from journalists who followed the New York Post’s lead and INCORRECTLY named two suspects, including a missing Brown University student. The journalistic “pack” spread their names and photos like wildfire, only to find out by Friday morning they had nothing to do with the plot.

After it became clear on Friday who the actual suspects were and their names released, Twitter users immediately located a Twitter account for the younger suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. His tweet heard ‘round the Internet said:

@Boston_Police I will kill you all as you killed my brother

Just one problem: that account was fake, set up just mere hours earlier. (Sidenote: fake Twitter accounts have their time and place, but not during tragedy. Absolutely sick.)

As the day progressed, with so many people listening and live tweeting information from police scanners, the Boston Police had to issue an urgent warning:

#MediaAlert: WARNING: Do Not Compromise Officer Safety by Broadcasting Tactical Positions of Homes Being Searched

(You would think these things would not need to be said.)

Once Friday afternoon rolled around, every muffler in the middle of the road or unattended backpack became a suspicious object. Even my tweeps from Cleveland were retweeting reports of unusual this-or-that from around the city. (All proved to be unrelated to Boston.)

By Friday night, however, the hunt was over and Boston Police were able to inform all of us tuning in via Twitter that Suspect 2 was in custody. Relief after a long day and long week of information and misinformation.

It’s clear that the news landscape is shifting quickly. Cable TV news outlets looked as if they were trying to keep up at a Twitter-like pace. Twitter had its own issues with both accurate and false information flying around at thousands of tweets per second. And all of us were just trying to get the real scoop.

Bottom line: I don’t think anyone has this figured out quite yet.

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