Boston Police Scanner: How Social Media Could've Sabotaged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Manhunt


On Thursday, Sean Collier, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Officer, was shot and fatally wounded after a convenience store robbery by one of two Boston Marathon terrorist suspects. The suspects, identified as Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, then hijacked a SUV and fled from police.

What followed was an intense manhunt that ended on Saturday evening; officials used the GPS tracking system in the hijacked vehicle and pursued them till they reached Watertown, stopped the car, and began a shootout with police. Tamerlan then exited the vehicle strapped with explosives and ran at the officers. He was shot on site and, according to a witness, Dzhokhar ran over his body making his escape.

As police pursued Dzhokhar, they were cautious about a media leakage that would aid in the terrorist suspect's escape. Members of the Associated Press were instructed to "exercise caution in showing live pictures or to describe detailed views of the movements of tactical officers," according to Antoine Sanfuentes, vice president of NBC News. The press was compliant with officials by broadcasting on delay and shooting as far away from police activities as possible.

However, in 2013 police now have to be vigilant about another type of news information outlet that could potentially leak information: social media. Hours after the incident, Twitter users began tweeting audio feeds from police scanners. It was reported, that Seth Mnookin, a MIT Graduate Professor tweeted:

"Air support called in. (Police) Scanner traffic has explosives strapped to suspect; did not see that here."

Though there are benefits to the onslaught of social media and news coverage, it also has "unintended consequences" according to an FBI representative. Social media users have been able to release more information by posting the suspects' YouTube videos and their social media accounts. However, not all of the information is correct. On Wednesday, reportedly, some Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter users attempted to, incorrectly, identify the suspect and several news outlets reported it.

Boston police asked Twitter and related social media users to restrain themselves from posting police locations, scanner feeds, and addresses of homes that are being searched to prevent Dzhokhar from being aided through his various newsfeeds. Dzhokhar has been linked to several Twitter handles so far. Two days before the bombing, the handle "@J_tsar" tweeted "god hates dead people? Or victims of tragedies? Lol those people are cooked." In addition, it was reported that since the Boston Marathon Bombings and the subsequent suspect information was released, the Twitter handle "@Dzhokhar_A" has gained over 6,000 Twitter followers.