When the New York Post published a front page cover featuring two innocent men they implied were the Boston terrorists, it was a journalism fail. Although the Post said the photos were being distributed by “law enforcement authorities,” they were obtained through a distinctly 2013 brand of social and digital media.
The photo was taken by Benjamin Levine, a 24-year-old Bostonian whose office atMarlo Marketing & Communications overlooked one of the bomb sites. His firm was hosting a marathon party and he was taking photographs when the bomb went off. Levine sent several pictures to Deadspin and wrote a first-hand account after the terror attack; he told Fast Company that his firm encouraged employees to blog as a therapeutic exercise.
Levine sent photographs to the Federal Bureau of Investigation shortly after law enforcement requested photos and videos from bystanders. Shortly after the photos went up on Deadspin, they became the subject of fevered speculation on Reddit and 4chan, which also hosted a crowdsourced crimesolving effort. Major newspapers then reached out to Levine asking for permission to republish his photograph. When Levine saw a cropped and enhanced version of his photograph on the cover of the Post, he was mortified.
“I was outraged at the stupidity,” Levine said in a telephone conversation. “I asked them to use (the picture) respectfully and it wasn’t at all, even though I knew of the Post's reputation.”
When Levine’s photographs jumped from Deadspin to the larger internet, he was taken aback but understood the impulses behind crowdsourced anti-terrorism forensics. “I had anger—honestly, people deal with things in different ways,” Levine said. “I try not to be angry at people on Reddit, but it seems like people enjoy playing detective for the day, and it gives them an escape—it has been a struggle for me not to judge.”