Crowdsourcing a terrorist suspect

People in and around the New York City area today were exposed to a very unpleasant noise to begin their Monday morning, in the form of a loud, screeching alarm from their smartphone that is typically reserved for AMBER alerts and severely inclement weather.

In this instance, it was neither. Rather, residents were being alerted to be on the lookout for a dangerous terrorist suspect.

By all accounts, it’s the first time that a Wireless Emergency Alert was used to essentially deputize millions of people during an active police investigation.

Given that social media  and technology has connected us all in ways that we never thought possible, it’s no real shock that it’s come to this. In fact, in many ways, it seems quite practical.

If people’s lives are in danger, why not let them know in the quickest way possible? Word of mouth does spread fast, but there’s no way to get information to somebody quicker than through their smart phone.

But let’s take a look at the actual message.


This was, of course, in response to the explosion in New York City of a pressure cooker bomb on Saturday night, which appears to be linked to at least three other homemade bombs that appeared recently in New York and New Jersey. Thankfully (and amazingly), they’ve killed no one.

We’ve yet to learn if the attack is linked to ISIS, unlike a knife attack that took place this weekend in Minnesota that injured nine people, which the radical Islamic group has taken credit for.

But OK, let’s unpack this. Firstly, for an alert sanctioned by the federal government for the purpose of keeping people from danger, I’d like it to be a bit more official-sounding than your average text message, or dare I say, a tweet.

My mom uses better grammar in text messages and she just got her first smart phone this year.

Secondly, “see media for pic”? You just intervened in my life with this resounding chelsea-bombingmessage, and you’re not even giving me complete information? In fact, you’re ordering me to do something?

Not including a picture in this message underlies the fundamental problem with this particular alert.

Sure, a lot of people likely saw this on their phone and either turned on the TV news or went straight to Google to learn more.

But many did not. And those people were only told that some man with a Middle-Eastern sounding name is on the loose.

If that’s not an invitation to racial profiling, I don’t know what is. Every brown man wandering New York City must have been reported to the NYPD at some point today.

And I’m not saying that Wireless Emergency Alerts are a lost cause. Like I stated earlier, it’s undoubtedly an efficient way to spread the word and incite vigilance. But if your goal is to inform people, well, why not actually include all of the pertinent details?

But I may take a page from our federal government and send out wireless alerts whenever I write a new post.


Furthermore, instead of an obnoxious alarm, the alert will be accompanied by a serenading harp solo.

And those who don’t have the time to read it will have the option to have it narrated to them by Morgan Freeman.

This all sounds doable.

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