When an arsonist began preying on Hollywood last week, social media sites like Twitter quickly emerged as a clearinghouse for information, says the Los Angeles Times. People tweeted when they first saw smoke, shot videos, and photos of burning cars on their cellphones, and traded both facts and rumors in rapid stream. Faced with a quickly changing, highly unusual investigation, L.A. law enforcement agencies embraced Twitter and other forms of social media as never before. Law enforcement and fire agencies essentially joined the conversation, using Twitter and Facebook not only to disseminate information but to get tips and track reports of new fires.
“This investigation is a social media phenomenon,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Parker. “Early, in terms of the public information office, the PIOs noticed that a lot of the best information was coming from and being distributed by social media. We wanted to speak to the public where the public is, and that is social media.” He added: “We got some valuable tips from social media,” Parker said. “I personally passed on to investigators at least three pieces of information from Twitter that were useful.” Authorities have arrested Harry Burkhart, 24, a German national carrying travel papers from Chechnya who had made a scene recently in an immigration court hearing.