Boston Blasts: What happens when the news and social media get it wrong

New York Post stumbled so badly while covering Boston Bombings that they brought the term 'epic fail' back into...

Noman Ansari April 21, 2013
In today’s highly competitive climate, it seems that the race to reach the finish line first for journalists is more important than how they get there, or if they are even running in the right direction.

In Pakistan, as Zarrar Khuhro explains so eloquently in his column, watching news break on local TV channels is only a little less painful than stabbing yourself in the ears with a screwdriver. Here, media outlets that win the breaking news race, finish like sore winners, beating their chests bloody till their sternums are cracked open.
 “YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST! DID YOU HEAR THAT? YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST! DID YOU HEAR THAT? YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST!”

Like a parrot on speed, local news anchors literally repeat their breaking stories until their throats are dry. Additionally, news outlets plaster their giant ugly logos all across their ‘exclusive coverage’, just to make sure they have both the hearing impaired and visually impaired members of their audiences covered.

Regrettably, lost sometimes in this cutthroat environment is a key aspect of good journalism: the truth.

During its coverage of the Boston bombings, and the aftermath, New York Post stumbled so badly, that they brought the term ‘epic fail’ back into style.  Immediately after the Boston marathon attack, this American tabloid posted enough factual inaccuracies in its coverage to be mistaken for something from the satirist newspaper, The Onion. Naturally, The Onion itself took interest, and took New York Post to task for falsely reporting that 12 people had died, and spreading inaccurate rumours about a suspected Saudi terrorist.

Not satisfied with falling flat on its face just once, New York Post landed on its nose once again by wrongly identifying Salah Eddin Barhoum, and his friend Yassine Zaime, as the two suspected bombers.

This resulted in Barhoum, an American boy of Moroccan origin feeling very frightened,
 "I'm going to be scared going to school," Barhoum said.

"Workwise, my family, everything is going to be scary."

According to many verified (See, New York Post, you verify first) reports, Barhoum was so traumatised as a result of being identified as a terrorist, that he ‘ran back to his high school frightened after a track meet, when he saw a man in a car staring at him, talking into a phone.’

Friday night’s events in Boston, which began when the FBI released images of those they believed to be the bombers, and resulted in the panicky actions of the accused a few hours later - shooting a police officer at MIT university, and then later carjacking a Mercedes SUV, while throwing bombs and exchanging fire with the police - have unfolded like the plot of a movie (probably starring Jack Bauer), resulting in an increasing hunger for speedier coverage that the mainstream media has been unable to provide.

CNN’s coverage, which has been elegant and informative, hasn’t been quick enough for those turning to social media sources such as Twitter and Reddit for news.

On Twitter, hacker group Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) was easily the fastest, and by far the most accurate of any source on social media, providing the latest information through audio captured from police surveillance communication chatter, as well as images shared by those on the scene, providing a deliciously intimate  coverage that carried a voyeuristic thrill.

Unfortunately, social media at this point suffered from its own epic fail, when it falsely fingered missing Boston student Sunil Tripathi as one of the suspected bombers. Soon, the masses on Twitter, 4Chan, and Reddit had their pitchforks raised, and were involved in plenty of self-congratulatory backslapping, for identifying the apparently depressed student as the culprit.

Sadly, things took a turn for the worse, when Tripathi’s details found their way to the internet, including work related data on his father, as well as personal details on immediate members of his family.

I can only imagine how painful it must have been for his already worried kin, to have the countless Sherlock Holmes of the internet harassing them online, and phone calling their publicly listed numbers. At one point, a Facebook page the family had created in order to create awareness for the missing student was taken offline, while a YouTube video which appealed for information on Tripathi was jam packed with comments about the missing brown skinned student being a terrorist.

But this wasn't the only mistake made by the armchair detectives of social media. Salah Barhoun, the young man who had been the focus of New York Post's unwanted press had been the target of a witch-hunt by users of Reddit, where information about his location was dangerously posted for the world to see by users overly excited by the thought of solving the mystery at hand.

Later, it took a respected news source like NBC to dispel these rumours, proving that while social media is the fastest platform for the digestion of news, it should all be consumed with a grain of salt. It also goes to show that reaching the finish line without verifying the facts, is an instinct not limited to terrible journalists.

Read more by Noman here or follow him on Twitter @Pugnate
WRITTEN BY:
Noman Ansari The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

COMMENTS (94)

pakonlinechat | 8 years ago | Reply A feeling of victimisation seems to have motivated this content..
Nayla | 8 years ago | Reply People here in the US generally take the NY Post with a grain of salt. It is not an actual newspaper, it's a gossip rag.
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