Lessons to be learned from the Boston bombing

(CBS News) Though it's early in the investigations of what happened, there already are some lessons to be learned from this past week. Martha Teichner has filed this Sunday Journal:


It ended with applause . . . and a tweet . . . the week from Hell in Boston. The awful, sad, surreal events playing out like a multimedia horror show, starring terrorism and technology.

Who could have imagined a major American city locked down? Armored vehicles, commandos and SWAT teams in an ordinary suburb like Watertown, Mass.?

But who could have imagined that the Tsarnaev brothers would be picked out of so many thousands -- tens of thousands -- of pictures and identified so fast, names supplied to faces by State Department computers.

Bill Bratton has been Boston's Police Commissioner, New York's, and Chief of Police in Los Angeles. He says the latest events are a game-changer.

"The game changer here is that the big data era, the social media era, all aspects of that new world that was nonexistent even on 9/11, all of that came into play during this event," Bratton said.

What time did you hear about the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday? When did you start seeing the images of the explosions that were played back, over and over? The man in the orange jersey falling? Horribly injured people being raced away?

The face of Martin Richard, the eight-year-old boy who was killed . . .

It was in the anguish and confusion of the aftermath, that we began to see the impact of the Internet and social media, for better and for worse, on a story of this magnitude.

Tweets became the new public service announcements. When photographs of the Tsarnaev brothers were released and the public was asked for help identifying them, 300,000 people a minute went to the FBI website.

"Social media instantly shared those photos hundreds of thousands of times," said John Herrman, tech editor at buzzfeed.com, a leading social news site. "They amplified a very important message from the FBI. Unfortunately, they also amplified a lot of unimportant and misguided messages from other sources. It was a very messy, noisy, and at times worrying process."

Some sites (like Reddit) found themselves posting apologies, but not before damaging mis-identifications went viral and wer epicke dup into mainstream media (like the New York Post).

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev tweeted this on March 17:

Last Monday, after the bombings, he wrote:

In retrospect, chilling; his Twitter account now the subject of intense scrutiny.

"What we're beginning to find," said Herrman, "is a portrait of someone who seems to have more in common with our ideas of what a school shooter would look like, or what a troubled teenager would look like."

The older Tsarnaev brother, Tamerlan, was quoted as saying, "I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them."

"The pattern that we're seeing with these two young Boston bombers is a pattern we've seen with many radicals in Europe, where you see emigrants from Muslim countries who are imperfectly assimilated into European society," said Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and author of "Invisible Armies."

"They speak the language, they live among us, they understand our society, they blend in somewhat, but at the same time, internally, they withdraw from the mainstream of society and embrace this radical, extremist vision," said Boot. "And the only warning you have can be when the bomb actually goes off, as it did in Boston. It's the worst nightmare."

Boot sees the Boston Marathon bombings as a blueprint for future terrorism -- and a wake-up call for cities convinced it can't happen to them.

"Since 9/11 there's been a lot of attention paid to counterterrorism, but a disproportionate amount of it has been in New York City," said Boot. "I think the Boston bombing will shake some of that complacency, and make lots of other cities around the country realize they could be in the crosshairs, too."

But in Boston, a lot of things went right. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was caught alive. For that, Boston celebrated.

"We are one. We are Boston. We are strong. We are Boston strong," was the message at Fenway Park last night. The crowd roared its agreement.

Yes, the resolve is there, but the damage is done. The sorrow and pain and loss are real.

If only we could back up the video, turn back time a week . . . to the sunny start of the race, and run it again, with a different outcome.


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