How Internet Detectives Got It Very Wrong

Dave Lee, Technology reporter for BBC News:

For the past 48 hours, internet users have been working with each other to piece together clues about the culprits of the Boston bombings. The result? They got it wrong – and left innocent people fearing for their safety. Many are now asking: should “crowd-sourced investigations” be stopped?

Thousands have been tirelessly picking through the evidence – every piece of video footage, every photo, every eyewitness account they can get their hands on.

But this investigation wasn’t within the confidential confines of the FBI or local police.

This disaster has shown a few darker sides to the internet. One is the “RT for support” profiteering missions on Twitter, another is the “share if you care for the Boston victims” idiotic attention-seeking posts on Facebook but the one that trumps all is the crazy “crowd-sourced” crime busting we’ve seen on Reddit or 4Chan.

My personal view is that this is incredibly dangerous. We’ve already seen a witch hunt for innocent people already, courtesy of the New York Post. The image they used for their front page were popularised and publicised through online communities such as Reddit.

This has harmed actual people’s lives. It’s easy for people to forget that while they’re busy being fake investigators, they are dealing with real people in the photos and are meddling with the fact that on the internet it’s uncontrollably easy for something to go viral. What these people are doing by taking the law into their own, under-qualified, hands is playing with both the integrity of the law enforcement investigation, as well as makein people potentially fear for their lives. Witch hunts were bad in the real analogue world anyway. When you add in the explosive nature of the internet, shit can hit the fan at one hundred times the speed.

Despite personal opinion however, this incident marks a new era of private investigation (or vigilantism, depending on your outlook on life). The article linked provides a good summary of events and opinions from both side of the argument. Check it out.

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