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Helping or Hurting? Reddit Postings on Boston Marathon Bombings
April 17, 2013
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The information aggregation system called Reddit has established a discussion board for information related to the identification of those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this week.  Several information strings include a detailed evaluation of some public and professional photos of activities related to the Boston Marathon.  For example, one set of photos attempts to identify one or more individuals (aka Blue Robe Guy) who were carrying backpacks similar to the photos shared by the FBI.  Another discussion string provides a layman's breakdown of the bomb components also released by the FBI.  

The question is whether or not these kinds of postings help or hinder the process of investigating a major act of terrorism.  One the one hand, basic crowdsourcing concepts will tell you that the more people who look at something the more likely a real and viable solution will rise to the top.  This is especially true after government investigators openly shared photos and pleaded for help from the public in identifying the perpetrators.  On the other hand, the growth of conspiracy theories and the lack of professional experience could lead these types of social communities to jump to conclusions or inadvertently accuse someone who may have had no involvement whatsoever (see Blue Robe Guy above or Richard Jewell ala 1996).  

So the question remains -- will crowdsourced terrorism investigations help or hurt the process?

I know one thing -- these types of emergent investigations will continue in the future now that people have seen it done and want to help.  So what do we do about it?



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