Will Online Social Networks Help Find the Boston Marathon Bomber?
As I write this post exactly 48 hours after the horrific Boston marathon bombing, the race is on to discover the identity of the bomber(s) and there is a mass movement online of individuals participating in the hunt. For better or worse.
On Facebook, these IMGUR high-resolution photos are spreading like wildfire - depicting a sequence of images where, some are claiming, two men are seen at the site of both bombs, mysteriously losing their bulging backpacks en route from one site to the next.
Also, on Reddit, there is currently a popular thread ominously-located in the "Conspiracy" category titled: "Two males seen at the site of both bombs, photographed later walking away - only one has a bag. The first picture shows a clear bulge from the bag, very consistent with the type of pressure cooker believed to be used." It's sole purpose seems to be to let orindary people chime in with their opinions on the photos.
There is also a more general Reddit discussion thread devoted to finding the bombers. Meanwhile, another thread is now emerging devoted to confirming certain people as innocent.
This is obviously a tremendously sensitive issue. On the one hand, these public crowdsourcing efforts are a sign of just how much Americans want to help and contribute to the cause of finding whatever terrorists launched the attack and bringing them to justice. On the other hand, and this ought to be clear to any reasonable person, there is an enormous danger of the crowd completely misidentifying individuals in such photos as terrorists when they are completely innocent. And due to the viral online nature of these discussions, a mob mentality could ensue irreparably damaging someone's reputation forever based on the mere conjecture of totally random conspiracy-theorists on the Internet.
Anyone participating in these online discussion forums really ought to heed Reddit's own caveat...
This subreddit is a place for people to post images, links, and thoughts about the potential identities of those responsible for the bombing. HOWEVER, please keep in mind that most or all of the "suspects" being discussed are innocent people.
IMPORTANT: We do not support any form vigilante justice. We are not law enforcement. If you have major information about the identities of any of the bombers, please send a tip to the FBI or BPD.
Look, we all want to help. And if these public crowdsourcing efforts actually lead to finding the bombers, that will truly be an amazing thing. However, this is such a frightening endeavor, and so fraught with peril, that collectively we need to, at the very least, exercise severe caution and make sure that our efforts are helping more than they are harming the very-real investigation performed by law enforcement and counter-terrorist professionals.