National/World

Social media plays role in search for Boston suspects

Sunday, April 21, 2013
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San Francisco Giants fans practiced a little patience on their way into AT&T Park this weekend. That's because security remains heightened in response to the Boston Marathon bombings. We spoke with one fan whose relative took a photo that helped track down the bombing suspects.

On this weekend of heightened security at the ballgame, Heather Green has a special reason to be happy the whole ordeal in Boston is over. She has family there, "Sending love from Giants stadium to Boston right now," she said.

She also has a brother-in-law, who ran the marathon, took a picture just after the second bomb exploded Monday. He called his brother here in the Bay Area Thursday after Boston authorities released grainy images of the two suspects.

"He said will you help me blow it up," Heather said. "And they contacted the FBI, and the FBI said it's in the New York Times today, the FBI said it was the best picture they got of the suspect."

His picture turned out to be the first clear photo of suspect number two, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Heather's brother-in-law, David Green, then posted that picture on Facebook, where more than 12,000 people shared it.

"My god, you know, I actually hit the lottery where I took that one picture that could have been helpful," David said. "So it's about the greatest win that I could have ever had right there to have helped."

This picture is an example of how big a role social media played in this event. Authorities were flooded with tips about the two suspects when images were shared. And when the two brothers went on their rampage, trying to escape, lots of people followed the story on Twitter.

"For those of us who've been on social media for several years now, there just isn't any news organization that comes anywhere close to Twitter," digital journalism professor Jeff Howe said in a Skype interview.

Howe is a professor at Northeastern University in Boston. He says Twitter followers also posed a problem for law enforcement during the search.

"You know, when they were actually conducting the search in Watertown, which is just a few blocks away from me, the concern was that people on Twitter were going to give away the coordinates of the police," Howe said.

Professor Howe says news on social media is still a work in progress, but there's clearly has a large audience.

It was interesting watching people in line on Friday to get into AT&T Park. A lot of them were following the arrest of suspect number two on their smartphones.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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