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New York bomb plot suspect's name puts Internet in a spin

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2010-05-04

When New York police released the name of the man arrested for the attempted car-bombing in Times Square, internet users trawled social networking sites for more clues to the identity of Faisal Shahzad, with some unhappy results.

Within hours of his name being released, Faisal Shahzad’s name became the web’s biggest hit.

The number one suspect in the failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square became the object of fascination for media organisations and amateur sleuths looking for a picture of the US citizen, originally from Pakistan.

But without much luck: both his first and family names are extremely common on the Indian subcontinent, ditto for combinations of the two. Facebook alone has 500 profiles under that name.

Online news site the Huffington Post was quick to published a number of links to Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, as well as Flickr (Yahoo!’s online public photo repository) accounts under the name of “Faisal Shahzad”.

The Huffington Post’s valiant efforts to unmask the would-be bomber created an immediate Internet buzz, and with the help of popular “microblogging” site Twitter the dam was opened on a host of innocents, mostly based in Pakistan. Two of these unfortunate Faisal Shahzads suffered the indignity of seeing their pictures commented upon online.

The US-based Huffington post has since withdrawn its 20-odd links. But the damage was done: on top search engine Google, “Faisal Shahzad” topped the list of Internet searches within seven hours of his name being released.

The use of social networking sites for finding photos of people in the “public interest” is nothing new.

The first photo of “rogue trader” Jerome Kerviel, accused of losing 4.9 billion euros for his employer Societe Generale, was lifted from his Facebook account and used extensively by the media.

More recently, the first picture of Zahia Dehar, the call girl linked to the sex scandal involving Franck Ribéry and the French national football team, was also taken from her Facebook profile.

Date created : 2010-05-04

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