With every new election, big TV event, or breaking news story, it becomes increasingly clear that social media, especially Twitter, is a major part of the story. Social media heavily followed the events of this past week, one of the worst and most insane weeks in recent memory. I mean, really, really heavily followed it. In fact, this tweet from the Boston Police Department after Suspect 2, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was caught, is the second most retweeted tweet of all time, second only to Obama’s “four more years” tweet.
CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.
— Boston Police Dept. (@bostonpolice) April 20, 2013
Twitter, as we continue to learn, isn’t just watching the story. It’s part of the story, and this isn’t always good. For the most part, Twitter users wanted to help. People were up all night on Friday following the events of the shootout and car chase, and live tweeting the police scanner. This, as we’ve realized, is not a great idea. The police scanner is a conversation, not confirmation, and by instantly spreading every sentence of an in progress event, things are distorted. Though the intentions were to spread information quickly, it did more harm than good. Same with Reddit’s efforts to find the bomber. They meant well, but they Richard Jewelled a whole lot of people in the process, and I feel like Richard Jewelling is only going to become a more common occurrence.
But hey, even when they screwed up, most of the Internet meant well. We tried. Except for one horrible corner of Twitter. Parody accounts need to die. Within a couple hours of the suspects’ names being released, multiple parody accounts pretending to be Dzhokhar sprang up. While everybody else was trying to be helpful, or at least tactful, these dickweeds took a different route.
What the hell is wrong with these people? This is a horribly unfunny and insensitive move at best, and legitimately dangerous at worst. At one point, Boston police searching for Dzhokhar were under the impression that he was sending them threatening tweets from a Twitter account. Let me clarify that. Somebody was pretending to be a terrorist, and was tweeting death threats at the heroes who were literally risking their lives to bring him to justice
Of course, it wasn’t Dzhokhar, it was some asshole, but that isn’t something that police should have to even consider. The live tweeting of the police scanner chatter made it even worse, because police saw that “Dzhokhar” was tweeting, mentioned it on the scanner, and then the thousands listening to the scanner tweeted it as fact. It created this horrible loop of misinformation that thankfully, didn’t cause any serious problems. This time.
#springlivin? This man killed four people, including an 8-year-old boy. Fuck you.
And where are some of these pictures coming from? That doesn’t look at all like Dzhokhar. I guess when you’re rushing to be the sixth Dzhokar parody account, accuracy falls by the wayside.
This fake account is offensive in a different way. Though the name and handle are Dzhokhar, the bio makes clear that this is not actually him. But, why? It pretends to be noble while being clearly self promoting or a scam. “If we get over 1 million followers, we will start a donation fund in support of the families effected [sic]” Why wouldn’t you start the fund right now? Why are you holding a fund hostage for Twitter followers? And who is “we?” This is like @_BostonMarathon, a fake marathon account on Monday that did the same thing.
I’ll save you the trouble of visiting the website linked to in the tweets. It’s a BlogSpot with two posts, including a poem about the race by a Devindra Singh. If you want to donate to the fund (even though they don’t yet have those million followers, I guess,) you should mail your donations to Devindra Singh’s home address in Florida, and he’ll get the money to the families. He’s either hopelessly naïve about how to actually help people, or faaaaar more likely, a scam artist – a taint of a human being.
And people fall for these! I know that Twitter can move a mile-a-minute, but with a little bit of effort we can avoid retweeting these cretins and spreading falsehoods. Yes, most of them languish with single digit follower counts, but a few, like @_BostonMarathon and the first Dzhokhar parody do get some viral traction. The fakes are easy to spot though. For instance, it’s unlikely that the real Boston Marathon couldn’t get the Twitter handle without an underscore in front of it. Dzhokhar, running from police and federal agents, probably didn’t decide that, yes, now was the time to resister for Twitter. Everyone just take a deep breath. It’s the Internet, and sometimes people on the Internet lie. Just report them for spam, and move on.
And by the way, they eventually found his real Twitter account. As you might imagine, he wasn’t tweeting much on Friday, on account of being shot in the throat, chased by police, and dealing with the fact that he had just run his brother over with a car.
The vast, vast majority of responses to Monday’s horrible acts were good. It’s a cliché at this point, but people ran into danger to help others. First responders went above and beyond the call of duty. Journalists and impromptu citizen journalists tried to inform an anxious public, with some missteps along the way. Even when it didn’t work out, the instinct was almost universally to help. Only a tiny handful did otherwise, trying to make this more frightening and confusing instead of less. I don’t know why they would want to do this. If I had to guess, I’d quote a great Russian uncle – because they are losers.