Boston Marathon Explosion

04.19.13

Twitter Never Sleeps, Even During Middle-of-the-Night Boston Police Shoot-outs

Social media blanketed the Boston police shoot-out, and who knew an alleged terrorist was tweeting? Lauren Ashburn on how the mainstream press was eclipsed.

While most of us were sound asleep, Andrew “You can call me Kitz” Kitzenberg took to Twitter to chronicle the most intensely watched news event in the world—all from his Massachusetts home.

12:55 a.m. Shoot out outside my room in Watertown. 62 Laurel st.

12:57 a.m. Shoot out with 5 minutes of gun fire and pressure cooker bomb

1:00 a.m. PD claiming IEDs on the street. Everyone stay off of laurel st.

1:01 a.m. Crashed cop car with all windows shot out in our driveway

Later, as if we needed it, he posted definitive proof that he was as close as he said he was:

2:43 a.m. @AKitz13h Bullet hole through our wall and the chair

By 7:30 Friday morning, as most of us were getting our first cup of coffee, Kitz—an entrepreneur who invented an iPhone case that carries credit cards—had lapped the traditional media with his eyewitness reports and this-just-in pictures. Social media, for all its flaws, had kicked butt on the Boston bombings.  

Twitter never sleeps. And when a news story explodes in the quiet of the night, you realize how grateful you are that Jack Dorsey had brains enough to found it. And that people like Kitz see the value in telling the world what's happening in their backyards.

While habit led me to turn on the TV that morning, Twitter’s disparate voices gave me information faster, sent me to “tick-tocks” from journos who blogged every second of the events all night long, and put the overwhelming amount of information in context. 

And just as valuable—and sometimes maddening—is the Greek chorus of voices prodding and questioning every bit of new information. When news outlets reported the suspects hailed from Chechnya and some speculated their motives were related to terrorism in that country, or their Muslim religion, the backlash boiled over:

Yes, You're Racist@YesYoureRacist 6h

ATTENTION, RACISTS: The Boston bombing suspects are from the actual Caucasus region, meaning they *literally could not be more Caucasian*

When The New York Times put up an interactive map showing the exact location of police, and several TV stations aired the exact locations, average tweeps and the cops called for restraint:

@Boston_Police

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

That police message was retweeted 20,000 times.

In a criminal trial, a jury of 12 people, from different backgrounds, hears the evidence and reaches a consensus. Our justice system believes that many voices are better than one expert when trying to understand the truth. And so it goes with the voices on the Internet.

Now before you jump down my throat for not talking about the dark side of social media—yes, there are terrorists on social media. And so were the suspects. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—the 19-year-old arrested by police Friday night—used the handle @J_tsar, tweeting comments like “I’m a stress free kind of guy” and quoting lyrics from Eminem. He also tweeted what now looks like bright flashing warning lights:

“I killed Abe Lincoln during my two hour nap #intensedream” and “Idk why it’s hard for many of you to accept that 9/11 was an inside job, I mean I guess fuck the facts y’all are some real #patriots #gethip”

And: “If you have the knowledge and the inspiration all that’s left is to take action”

It is now an unwritten job description of every journalist to follow social media for hints or clues to new information. And bad guys often leave a long digital trail. More background can often be gleaned from a Facebook page than from knocking on neighbors’ doors.

Twitter’s disparate voices gave me information faster, sent me to tick-tocks from journos who blogged every second of the events all night long.

But the online chatter isn’t always accurate. The information-sharing site Reddit mobilized to help find the suspects, but as The Hollywood Reporter noted, also cast suspicion on a number of innocent bystanders who were pictured in photos of the marathon.

“I will be the first to admit my guilt. I f---ed up Reddit!” one user wrote. “Some of this ‘f---ing up’ is morally reprehensible and needs to stop.” 

Once police captured Tsarnaev without a firefight, the tension broke and all of Boston was celebrating, Twitter reverted back to its normal self and the old snark returned. One who couldn’t resist taking a potshot was Donald Trump: “Is the Boston killer eligible for Obama Care to bring him back to health?” And that was retweeted 3,500 times.

But the fireworks weren’t over. Around 10 p.m., Twitter struck again. Hossenator [Edward Fitzgerald (“A below average looking male with a smoking hot wife, who doesn’t like people very much, himself included”] posted a dramatic photo of what appeared to be state police subduing the injured and bloodied Tsarnaev. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the picture was authentic, but half an hour later, it showed up on CNN.

The tense day ended as it began, with the news appearing first on Twitter.