Moments after the Boston Marathon bombings took place authorities solicited images from the public to help track down suspects. Many images of the finish line were also added to Reddit where internet denizens tried their hand at cracking the case. It turns out the crowdsourced manhunt was as effective as the New York Post, which identified the wrong people. The wrong information spread fast and far on Twitter and other social media platforms and in turn led to harassment of innocent people.
The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal deplored the internet “vigilanteism” taking place on Reddit. Madrigal details the harm endured by the family of one of the wrongly identified.
“The FBI kind of opened the door,” said Hanson R. Hosein, director of the University of Washington Master of Communication in Digital Media program. “It was almost like it was put up as challenge to them, and they rose to it. … They can be either really helpful or mob rule.”
Will Oremus writes on Slate that Reddit is simply making the journalistic process of vetting facts a public process.
The Reddit hive-mind does have a conscience. There’s a lot of id to be found on the site, sure, but there’s also a superego. As I noted yesterday, one of the top posts on the findbostonbombers thread was titled, “Does anyone remember Richard Jewell?” The post urged Redditors to exercise caution in identifying potential bombing suspects, lest they end up ruining the lives of innocent people like the security guard falsely accused of the 1996 Olympic bombing.
Today’s Question: Should we be crowdsourcing investigations like the Boston Marathon bombings?