Here’s something I never thought I’d say: Not everything needs to be more social.
That’s tough for me to admit. Nobody is a bigger social media fan than me.
After what happened in Boston, though, I’m convinced: Social media doesn’t belong everywhere.
Take crime investigations, for instance.
Some will argue it’s a perfect fit, and they’ll point to the remarkable case of Aidan Folan as proof. After video of a brutal New York subway mugging was posted online, social commenters quickly identified Folan as the mugger based, in part, on Facebook photos of Folan wearing a fraternity sweatshirt that was identical to the one the mugger in the video was wearing.
Score one for social sleuths, right?
Then came the Boston Marathon bombings. Amateur commenters on social sites (most prominently Reddit) decided they’d try to solve the case themselves by letting the crowd publicly analyze many of the photos and videos taken near the finish line that day. If it worked in the Aidan Folan case, it would work in Boston, right?
Their theories were dead wrong, actually. Things got worse when the New York Post used a photo from Reddit’s crowdsourced investigation on its infamous “Bag Men” front page — a photo of two men who had nothing to do with the bombings.
Things weren’t all bad on the social front — they were mostly good, in fact. Social media helped loved ones reconnect after the bombings. It let police alert the public of developments and announcements during the manhunt. It brought the rest of the country together in an emotional outpouring of support for the people of Boston. Some have even come out in defense of social media’s “open journalism” model.
At the same time, I think an ugly truth surfaced in Boston: In times of crisis, the crowd can sometimes become a mob that, however unintentionally, (a) targets innocent people and (b) hampers the real investigation by pulling officers away from their true work to pursue dead ends.
It’s an important reminder for all of us: Though we’ve been touting social media for years, it’s still the Wild West out there.
By all means, proceed. Use social media to connect and network, to teach and learn, to grow personally and professionally. It will help you do all of those things.
In sensitive areas, though, it’s still wise to proceed with caution.
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