Social media's role in Boston manhunt - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Social media's role in Boston manhunt

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New Orleans, La. - From the moment bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, investigators knew social media could play a role in solving the case.

Louisiana Marathon director Craig Sweeney was in the area just an hour before the blasts and posted videos to YouTube.

"Federal officials, they're asking whatever images you have, pictures, video, please share them so that it helps to find who did this," he said.

When the FBI unveiled pictures of the suspects Thursday, again, they asked for help from the public.

Mark Poepsel, an associate professor at Loyola, says never before has social media played such a role in a major manhunt.

"I think the combination of surveillance cameras and just the ubiquity of smart phone cameras helped them catch these guys faster than they would have in previous eras of technology," says Poepsel. "I think that having the public have these tools in their hands has helped in this case as much as it has hurt, if not more."

Poepsel says there is a downside to social media in investigations like this.

A thread on popular website Reddit incorrectly tied a missing Brown University student to the bombings.

People listening to police scanners on the Internet were posting tweets about police activity around Watertown.

The Boston Police Department tweeted, "Warning, do not compromise officer safety by broadcasting tactical positions of homes being searched."

Twitter stayed busy as the manhunt continued into Friday evening.

The website Trendsmap showed some of the top words trending across the U.S. and in New Orleans.

Among the popular words here, "Boston", "Watertown" and "bombers".

"It seems like it makes us more of a national community if you see people in New Orleans who all of a sudden care up until 2,3 in the morning, 4 o'clock in the morning what's going on in Boston," says Poepsel. "The upside of that is we are connected with each other and we're showing that they do care about what's going on in other cities."

Friday night, Boston Police tweeted the words everyone had been waiting for:

"Captured! The hunt is over."

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