An incredible manhunt is underway. Police have surrounded a 20-block area in
Watertown, as the entire city of Boston remains shut down. One suspect is now dead, while the other is the subject of an unprecedented search effort. From the bombs going off on Monday to the current pursuit, new tools of public information conveyance merged with the old in a frenzied rush of identification, misidentification, and false certainty.
It’s still early w unconfirmed scanner reports but if Redit was right with the Sunil Tripathi theory, it’s changed the game 4ever
— Luke Russert (@LukeRussert) April 19, 2013
For instance, in the middle of a wild Thursday night, before the Tsarnayev brothers were officially identified, several reports erroneously suggested that one of the suspects was in fact a missing Brown student previously fingered by users on Reddit. Ryan Chittum has more:
And then there were the keyboard crimefighters at Reddit. At one point a police dispatcher, apparently incorrectly, said that the suspects’ names were Sunil Tripathi, a Brown student who disappeared last month, and Mike Mulugeta. Reddit, still smarting from the backlash to their amateur sleuthing, took a very premature victory lap.
Earlier this week Alexis Madrigal warned against the giddy overzealous vigilantism on Reddit:
They are well-meaning people who have note considered the moral weight of what they’re doing.* This is vigilantism, and it’s only the illusion that what we do online is not as significant as what we do offline that allows this to go on. Imagine if people were standing around in Boston pointing fingers at people in photographs and (roughly) accusing them of terrorism. … No one is saying the police are perfect or that the FBI is always fair, but they have an ethos, a set of rules they’re sworn to uphold, and accountability if they make mistakes. And in any case, the way to fix the failings of our law enforcement procedures is not to create an even more flawed system. Investigating these bombings is just not a job for “the crowd,” even if technology makes such collaboration possible.
Offline, the New York Post hunted another non-suspect, a local high school student, on its front page. Amy Davidson addressed the case of the first non-suspect, a Saudi national who was tackled by a civilian in the immediate aftermath of the explosions on Monday:
What made them suspect him? He was running—so was everyone. The police reportedly thought he smelled like explosives; his wounds might have suggested why. He said something about thinking there would be a second bomb—as there was, and often is, to target responders. If that was the reason he gave for running, it was a sensible one. He asked if anyone was dead—a question people were screaming. And he was from Saudi Arabia, which is around where the logic stops. Was it just the way he looked, or did he, in the chaos, maybe call for God with a name that someone found strange? …
“If you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil—that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid,” President Obama said. That was mostly true on Monday; a terrible day, when an eight-year-old boy was killed, his sister maimed, two others dead, and many more in critical condition. And yet, when there was so much to fear that we were so brave about, there was panic about a wounded man barely out of his teens who needed help. We get so close to all that Obama described. What’s missing? Is it humility?