Was New York’s Mass-Text Manhunt Really Unprecedented?

Was New York’s Mass-Text Manhunt Really Unprecedented?

Published By: The Verge, 9/20/2016

View the Article 


New York City police used the Wireless Emergency Alert system recently to send out a “Wanted” text message about a bombing suspect, and they plan to use the system for similar purposes in future. However, they have received heavy criticism, mainly saying that the short, pictureless message may have encouraged mass racial profiling, and that overuse of the system might lead to people ignoring it.

Extended Discussion Questions

  • How is the Wireless Emergency Alert system different from, for example, old-style emergency radio or TV alerts? What advantages does it have? What disadvantages?
  • Imagine this alert had been sent out in a much smaller city, or in a rural area. Do you think it would have been more or less useful? Do you think people’s reactions would be different?
  • Why do you think the WEA system is so limited technologically? (Ninety characters, no pictures, no links.)
  • Do you agree with the criticism that the message may have encouraged racial profiling? Within the current limits of the technology, is there anything the NYPD could have done differently to avoid encouraging racial profiling?

Alternative Article

“The Problem With That Cellphone Alert About the Chelsea Bombing Suspect”
Published By: Slate, 9/19/2016 || View the Article
Provides lengthier discussion of potential problems, but does not describe the initial incident.

Relating This Story to the CSP Curriculum Framework

Global Impact Learning Objectives:

  • LO 7.1.1 Explain how computing innovations affect communication, interaction, and cognition.
  • LO 7.3.1 Analyze the beneficial and harmful effects of computing.
  • LO 7.4.1 Explain the connections between computing and real-world contexts, including economic, social, and cultural contexts.

Global Impact Essential Knowledge:

  • EK 7.1.1I Global Positioning System (GPS) and related technologies have changed how humans travel, navigate, and find information related to geolocation.
  • EK 7.3.1A Innovations enabled by computing raise legal and ethical concerns.

Banner Image: “Network Visualization – Violet – Crop NUMBER”, derivative work by ICSI. New license: CC BY-SA 4.0. Based on “Social Network Analysis Visualization” by Martin Grandjean. Original license: CC BY-SA 3.0

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