The “Double-Edged Sword” Of Social Media, Criminal Investigations


After reportedly finding explosives in the San Francisco apartment of Ryan Kelly Chamberlain, the political and media consultant dropped out of sight and the FBI asked the public for its help in tracking him down, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Yesterday, a letter from Chamberlain set up for automated release was posted, detailing his lifelong struggle with depression, love, and work and suggesting that he was at the end of the line. (Chamberlain was taken into custody last night near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.)

A barrage of social media on the case amid an active manhunt points out the growing positive as well as negative impact of participatory real-time, citizen sleuthing. “We all love good stories, and a real-time criminal investigation in which we can take part is as good as it gets,” says Janet Johnson, assistant professor of social media communication at the University of Texas at Dallas. Social media is permanently in the mix of any investigation, says Fordham University media Prof. Paul Levinson, author of “New New Media.” He calls the trend “a double-edged sword.” On the one hand, public participation provides incredible reach. There are also pitfalls. Police were having a hard time doing their job during the Boston bombing investigation because people were hanging out on street corners trying to photograph their work as they did it.

Comments are closed.