Hyunjin Seo teaches social media communication strategies at the University of Kansas. The day after the Boston Marathon bombings she asked her class where they first got information about the attack, “More than 60% of the students said ‘Twitter.'”
From the time the first bomb exploded until Monday, a week later, information has darted across the internet to people almost lightning fast, but that information is also unfiltered.
“What we observe, often times, in a serious and rapidly developing event like this is that social media serves as an amplifier of misinformation,” explained Seo.
She said one website, reddit.com, tried to crowd-source a manhunt for the two bombing suspects but the website’s users identified the wrong people. A noble venture, but it highlites how quickly an unconfirmed piece of information can spread Seo said, “Many of them are not aware of social media ethical guidelines.”
While some tips aren’t accurate information is always welcome says Topeka Police Captain Brian Desch, “We’re always going to take everything they can give us.” During the course of an investigation detectives are able to weed out incorrect information Desch explained, “The last thing we want to do is try to stop people or tell people not to give us information.”
That line of communication is a sign of a healthy relationship between people and police.
“Too much information is better than none at all,” Desch said.
It will be months, until the public and media critics understand whether or not a crowd-sourced manhunt helps or hinders official police work Seo said one thing is certain, “The way we consume information has changed.”