What the Boston bombing taught us about Internet arrogance

By Francisco Dao , written on April 23, 2013

From The News Desk

Most of the tech industry, or at least the most vocal parts of it, have a prevailing belief that the Internet will solve everything while the government is little more than a parasite and obstacle that only serves to prevent the collective forces of the Web from solving all of the world’s problems. While I think everyone can agree that the government does a lot of stupid things, the increasingly popular view that the government is unnecessary and/or evil and all we need is a bunch of entrepreneurs and the almighty Internet to fix everything is frankly asinine arrogance of the highest order.

If anything teachable came out of the tragic and frightening events in Boston last week, it’s that the powers of the Internet failed in every way. The FBI, the police, the national guard, the fire department, and every other first responder who worked to keep the people of Boston safe and ultimately kill and capture the marathon bombers were part of the government that the tech industry loves to vilify. How did the Internet respond last week? Let’s take a look:
  1. The Internet decided they were going to do the job of the FBI and find the Boston bombers by creating a Reddit forum.
  2. That same forum quickly degenerated into racial accusations and the misidentification of several innocent people including missing student Sunil Tripathi.
  3. The rest of social media jumped into action in its usual role as a high speed rumor mill that will spread anything without the slightest attempt at verification.
  4. In our desperate attempt to inject ourselves into the action, the police had to ask people not to share photos of current police activity, because it might put them in danger. Not only was the Internet not helping, it was putting the people on the front lines at more risk.
  5. At least the Internet provided plenty of useless sideline commentary and filled my Facebook newsfeed with a whole bunch of new platitudes about not messing with Boston.
Now let’s look at what the hated, unnecessary government did last week:
  1. As always, cops, firefighters, and other government employed first responders ran towards the bombs while everyone else ran away.
  2. Same goes for the Texas fertilizer explosion.
  3. The FBI and Boston police went into immediate action and successfully identified the bombers and provided their photos to the public (at which point Reddit used the photos to misidentify Sunil).
  4. Police, FBI, and the national guard responded to the MIT shooting putting themselves in direct mortal danger and suffered casualties.
  5. After killing one bombing suspect in the shootout, the authorities captured the second bombing suspect alive.
Seems like the government did a lot more to find the bombers and keep us safe than the almighty internet did last week. I guess the tech industry was too busy disrupting underwear delivery to capture the Boston bombers.

My point isn’t to paint the government as perfect, far from it. I get as frustrated by government incompetence and I hate paying taxes as much as anyone. But I’m not so self important to think that I, the Internet, social media, Reddit, the tech industry, and even Anonymous, can solve all of our problems if the government just gets out of our way.

It’s easy to hate the government, especially when things are going well as they currently are in Silicon Valley. During the good times, it often feels as if the government is just a parasite sucking what they can from the fruits of our labor. But as the events of last week showed, when times turn bad it’s the government that steps into the breach while the rest of us hide behind its efforts. The great Internet problem solving machine sat on the sidelines making wild and incorrect speculations while government employees put their lives on the line and caught the Boston bombers. Think about that the next time you bang the anti-government drum.