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JU Profs. Freiberger, Willette discuss Boston bombings on WJCT’s “First Coast Connect”

Two Jacksonville University professors offered their insights into the Boston Marathon bombing on WJCT’s popular “First Coast Connect” radio show Monday, April 22.

Erich Freiberger, professor of philosophy, discussed the bombing suspects’ Chechnyan backgrounds and their possible radicalization over time, while Annmarie Kent-Willette, associate professor of communication, talked about the use of social media during and after the incident.

JU's Dr. Erich Freiberger

Freiberger spoke about the alleged perpetrators’ motives and the YouTube videos of Islamic radicals one or both had apparently viewed, and whether the pair’s links to Chechnya may have played a role. The Russian republic has seen a shift toward political instability and more rigid Islamic fundamentalism in the past two decades.

“It’s a case probably of self-recruitment,” he told host Melissa Ross and her listeners. “We’d like to think there’s sort of an Oz behind the curtain who trained these individuals … and as tempting as that would be because it would give us a clear way to respond … I think a more disturbing thought is that these people probably were radicalized (on their own) by the growing instability in the region.”

Willette, meanwhile, zeroed in on the tremendous use — and abuse — of social media during the bombings and in the hunt for suspects afterward.

“We will remember this as the moment in time when social media took on a much more significant role than in any other news story in our contempoary history,” she said.

The challenge with Facebook, Twitter and other social media, however, is in getting the facts correct.

JU's Dr. Annmarie Kent-Willette

“Just because it’s first doesn’t mean it’s right,” she said. “At one point, four individuals were named, innocent people … that’s not exactly fair.”

Willette noted that standards aren’t always followed by amateur sleuths and individuals trying to update the public on breaking news.

“If the mainstream media were to do this, we would be held to a standard that could end up with a libel case, a slander case, negligence or defamation. So there are some challenges,” she said. “Certainly social media has provided an opportunity for the public to participate, and that’s very exciting, this sort of democracy of voices … but it’s a double-edged sword in that we do not hold individuals to the same accountability that we would expect from our mainstream media.”

The two professors also took listeners’ calls during the show. To listen to the entire program, click here.