Opinion: The Boston bomb scare – Who pays for America’s overreaction?

Written by Amanda Loch on . Posted in Writing

This country needs to lighten up. It’s understandable that Americans are on high-alert after 9/11, but let’s ignore airport liquid bans, avian flu and global warming for a moment and examine an event of the past few weeks.

In mid-January, Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, employees of a marketing company called Interference, helped place ads around Boston in a viral marketing campaign. Also called “astroturfing” because it is essentially a fake grassroots campaign, viral ads look like they were made by fans instead of a corporation to create more hype.

In this case, the viral ads were supporting the new Cartoon Network’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters.

Resembling a homemade Lite-Brite, the small panels lit up to show one of the show’s Mooninite characters making an obscene gesture. Berdovsky and Stevens placed them around train stations, overpasses, and other high-traffic areas, as is typical for viral marketing.

No one could have foreseen the reaction from Boston. On Jan. 31, police, fire and bomb squads took notice, shutting down a great deal of Boston (including several bridges and the Charles River) for hours. Apparently, someone saw the Mooninite and assumed it was a bomb.

As more ads were found around the city (and later in Chicago, Pennsylvania and San Francisco) a national alarm was sounded. Several ads were “detonated” by bomb squads before anyone actually looked at the simple device and realized it was only a few light-emitting diodes and a battery.

Berdovsky and Stevens were arrested and accused of planting the “fake bombs” to incite panic. Now Massachusetts is clamoring for monetary reparations for the inconvenience and refuses to admit any overreaction on their part.

Apologies have been issued from the parent company, Turner Broadcasting. The president of

Cartoon Network has resigned and Berdovsky and Stevens are out on bail. So who is at fault? Although viral marketing is a dishonorable corporate tactic, Berdovsky and Stevens were doing their job. Further, Boston failed to get any facts before shutting down the city. The devices had been up for weeks and most anyone under 35 knew what they were looking at: a character from a popular cartoon.

The court case against Berdovsky and Stevens is hinged on the prosecution’s ability to prove the men intended to cause a bomb-scare. As this obviously wasn’t the case, I doubt Berdovsky and Stevens will have much to worry about. Boston, on the other hand, should admit they overreacted and stop trying to accuse these men of any kind of terrorism.

The city’s mayor, Thomas Menino called the event “outrageous.” The only outrageous thing in this situation is that Boston has egg on its face and would rather smear it around by pointing the finger and making false accusations instead of admitting fault and letting it go.

Calm down, America. We need to learn not to take ourselves so seriously and admit it when we do.

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Amanda Loch

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