Social media answers the call, helping Philly police track attackers

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Tuesday night, Philadelphia police asked for the public’s help in identifying suspects in an attack on a gay couple in Center City last week that is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

Within minutes of the video hitting the Internet, Philadelphia’s online community began a grassroots investigation of its own, driven by a desire to see the alleged attackers caught and leveraging the city’s large and active social media community to provide information.

By midnight, Twitter users @greggybennett and @FanSince09 identified where the alleged attackers had eaten dinner before the assault, and were able to connect faces in the video with user names and profiles.

But this wasn’t a case of mob justice taking the law into its own hands. The Philadelphia Police Department’s social-media-savvy officers were part of the conversation and credited “the crowd” for advancing the investigation. For journalists covering the attack and the investigation, it was about the need for watchful waiting and good old-fashioned reporting.

NewsWorks Tonight host Dave Heller spoke with Amy Z. Quinn, NewsWorks’ social media strategist, about the excitement of watching an investigation break wide open in real time — and the dangers it can present to reporters balancing the desire to publish with the obligation to be accurate. 

We’ll hear from FanSince09, as well as Kelly McBride, a faculty member at the Poynter Institute and specialist on media ethics. 

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