Bomb threats in a high-tech age

Published 9:43 pm Tuesday, October 7, 2014

By Steve Stewart

In the good old days of journalism, before anybody with a smart phone was a reporter, newspapers ignored bomb threats.

Don’t give the pranksters the attention they seek. That was editors’ philosophy in a low-tech age.

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Now we report in a high-tech age. Pranksters don’t need the next day’s newspaper for publicity. If the Suffolk courthouse is evacuated due a bomb threat, social media are instantly abuzz with tweets and posts from passers-by. Even city government puts it on Facebook.

Attention, if that’s what a knucklehead is after, is abundant. Professional journalists’ role is relegated to sorting fact from fiction, not determining whether the incident is newsworthy. Pranksters are emboldened to strike again, as has happened here in Suffolk four times in recent weeks.

The first one or two might have been a defendant’s lame attempt to get out of a court date. The last one – on a day that the Godwin Courts Building was closed but the annual Peanut Festival Parade was scheduled to roll down North Main Street – was unquestionably about attention.

The prankster got it. The parade was halted in mid-march, as law enforcement, wisely, exercised extreme caution.

Now that social media make it impossible to deny the culprit attention, how else to discourage behavior that has gone from nuisance to major disruption?

The editorial writer on this page Tuesday nailed it: Throw the book at the person or persons responsible. Give publicity hounds something to think about before they pick up the telephone and make another threat for kicks and giggles.

Here’s the encouraging news: The same technology that makes a prankster a celebrity for a day on social media also makes it much easier to catch him. And law enforcement will. It’s just a matter of time. What the judicial system does with the defendant thereafter will send a strong message to potential copycats.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is steve.stewart@suffolknewsherald.com.