How social media brought down a mobster

Alec Jacobs Contributor
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Call it another triumph of social media.

The FBI had been on the hunt for legendary mobster James “Whitey” Bulger for 16 years. The chase took agents across five continents and all over the U.S. But it wasn’t until the agency decided to broadcast photos of the gangster and his girlfriend over Twitter that Bulger would finally be caught.

The Washington Post reports that the FBI decided on its new strategy of blasting photos of Bulger and Catherine Elizabeth Greig on television screens and the social networking site Twitter on Tuesday. In a few short hours, the agency’s Los Angeles office received a call from someone living in the apartment complex where Bulger and Greig were living.

Authorities raided the complex and arrested Bulger, wanted in 19 killings in the Boston area, where he headed the Winter Hill Gang. The crime boss, now 81, was ordered yesterday to return to Massachusetts for trial. Greig will be tried also on charges of harboring a fugitive.

The FBI campaign launched this week featured billboards in Times Square in New York City and photo blasts on Twitter and Facebook, different from the agency’s usually more traditional approach.

The FBI also used public service announcements which aired during television shows Bulger’s girlfriend and women her age were likely to watch, hoping to reach women who might have seen her at a salon. Similar ads were placed in newsletters advertising plastic surgery. The FBI hoped a doctor who had operated on the couple might turn them in. (FBI arrests mob boss Whitey Bulger in Calif.)

After 16 years of doing things the traditional way, the targeted social media campaign resulted in Bulger’s arrest in just a few hours.

Bulger, who had been on the run since 1995, was the inspiration for the character played by Jack Nicholson in the Oscar-winning movie “The Departed.”