The latest bomb scare to upset a major US city wasn't the handiwork of the Al Qaeda terror network. This time, it was the Cartoon Network.
It all began Wednesday morning when a transit worker spotted a wired device on a girder underneath Interstate 93. After police found similar devices across the city, they shut down key roads and subway stations and called in federal officials with Homeland Security.
It took most of the day before a worried public would learn that the suspicious devices were merely electronically lit signs depicting a cartoon character known as a Mooninite – and were part of a "guerrilla marketing" campaign by Turner Broadcasting, gone awry. But even as security officials labored to get to the bottom of the incident, a parallel investigation was under way and open to all – in the blogosphere.
Bloggers claim they were the first to suspect that the "suspicious packages" weren't bombs. In fact, some had been blogging about the Mooninite marketing campaign for weeks, given that similar Mooninite signs had been sighted in other cities over the past couple of weeks.
Boston police haven't said whether the blogs or bloggers played any role in their own investigation, but some security analysts say such online social networks ought to be a prime law-enforcement tool during emergencies – or perceived emergencies.
"Increasingly networked personal communications, combined with the new understandings we have now of the power of social networks, should actually be harnessed for good in terms of dealing with terrorism [or] a situation like Katrina," says W. David Stephenson, a homeland security consultant based in Medfield, Mass.
Police have arrested two local men, Peter Berdvosky and Sean Stevens, and charged them each with one count of planting a hoax device and one count of disorderly conduct. They pleaded not guilty Thursday. If convicted, the men could face up to five years in prison.