It was all happening in a small town near Boston on Friday evening, but social media was the place to be as police in Watertown, Mass., closed in on and then arrested Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
@BostonGlobe: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev IN CUSTODY!
@mayortommenino: "We got him"
@SeanKellyTV: Loud applause at end of Franklin Street as SWAT walks out to crowd.
Almost immediately after TV crews and nearby residents began lining the street near where police believed the suspect was held up, the information began to flow steadily on Twitter and Facebook.
The day didn't start so gloriously for social media users.
Before officials identified the suspects as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, citizen journalists on Reddit were working hard to figure out the names based on blurry photos released by the FBI. While this type of activity isn't anything new, Redditors were more eager than ever, even creating a subreddit, or a dedicated home, devoted to the manhunt called r/findbostonbombers.
Using photos found on social networks and the near-constant chatter of police communications on scanner frequencies, two incorrect names surfaced. That information quickly made its way to media organizations, including the widely-popular Buzzfeed, and prompted tweets like this one from @CBSNews, which has been retweeted several thousand times:
"UPDATE: Boston Police are asking social media users not to post information they hear on police frequencies/scanner channels."
On Friday afternoon, Internet feeds of some Boston police scanner frequencies began disappearing from websites, but tech-savvy crime fans figured out other methods to listen, seeking out alternative frequencies from like-minded Twitter users.
Trained journalists know that communications on police scanners are at most useful for tips and should never be used for reporting. When the events began to unfold Thursday night, from a shooting at MIT to another shooting of a transit officer, the information being relayed via police radio was quickly spread as fact on Twitter, Facebook and beyond.
After officials confirmed the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, speculation over his brother's use of social media began to grow. Some media outlets, including CNN, reported Tsarnaev was using Twitter and Facebook while on the run, but those claims were based on accounts that may or may not be real.
For example, at least two Twitter accounts claming to be Tsarnaev's surfaced. One, @Dzhokhar_, was originally cited on Twitter as the account more likely to be real because it contains tweets dating back to December and references conspiracies involving Sandy Hook. After much media attention was placed on the account, the owner updated the bio information to read "This is a PARODY account and is no way shape or form related with the real Dzhokhr Tsarnaev."
The other account, @Dzhokhar_a, was quickly flagged as a likely fake. It was opened early Friday and begins with this tweet: "@Boston_Police, I will kill you all as you killed my brother." But more recent tweets ask for help in catching him and an overabundance of hashtags including #prayforboston #watertown and #Boston.
A credible clue to Tsarnaev's social media use is a profile in his name at vKontakte, a Russian Facebook alternative. According to that website, he last logged in at 8:04 p.m. Thursday and was using the mobile version of the service. The profile lists his current city as Boston. There have been several media mentions of his profile, however no independent verification that the profile is actually his. The vKontatke profile looks very much like a Facebook profile, with photos and even a reference to his interaction with a Russian Angry Birds page.
His last tweet? "I'm a stress free kind of guy."Copyright © 2015, CT Now