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Reddit thinks it can solve the Boston Marathon Bombings case.

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I love the phrase "Reddit Bureau of Investigation":

Acknowledging that “the range of suspects and motives remains wide open,” the FBI on Tuesday appealed to the public for help in solving the Boston Marathon bombing.

Users of the social-news site Reddit are, in their own way, doing exactly what authorities asked. On a subreddit called findbostonbombers, a group of amateur sleuths is sharing theories and passing around publicly available crowd shots. At this stage, Redditors have latched on to images of two different middle-aged men in the marathon crowd, each of whom appears to be holding a backpack with stripes on the straps. Why are those stripes relevant? They think the markings look similar to those in an FBI picture of a destroyed backpack found at the scene of one of the explosions. Authorities believe that backpack could have held one of the explosive-filled pressure cookers used in the bombing.

In the court of Reddit opinion, those stripes are enough to cast suspicion on a couple of to-this-point-anonymous men, one of whom the site’s users have dubbed “Blue Robe Guy.” (The other man Redditors have homed in on does not yet have a nickname.) Never mind that the guy’s outerwear more closely resembles a fleece jacket—a robe sounds more sinister, right? In any case, beyond the backpack markings, the supporting evidence seems a little thin. Some Redditors note that Blue Robe Guy appears to be gripping his pack tightly and “trying to look nonchalant.” Another adds that he “fits the profile of the kind of person I think did this.” Well then!

In some ways, Reddit is well-suited to the search for the Boston bomber. The site has a proven ability to crowdsource digital clues, and its built-in voting system allows users to bump up the comments they deem most helpful. On a subreddit called the “Reddit Bureau of Investigation,” there’s a group that’s always at the ready “to use the power of Reddit to solve crimes/mysteries and catch criminals.” According to the page’s info box, “Witch-hunts and the posting of personal information are forbidden. The motto not your personal army applies.” In addition to the search for the Boston bomber, the RBI page now lists investigations of a missing girl in Utaha lost memory card full of personal photos, and “organized pitbull fights in Macedonia.”

Not everyone is amused by Reddit's attempt to crowdsource crime investigation.

Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic says "Hey Reddit, Enough Vigilante-ism":

Vigilantes have organized themselves on Reddit for a manhunt. They want justice served. And they're openly debating suspects on the site. They're gonna solve the case! Like real cops on television.

But they are not real cops. They are well-meaning people who have not considered the moral weight of what they're doing.* This is vigilantism, and it's only the illusion that what we do online is not as significant as what we do offline that allows this to go on. Imagine if people were standing around in Boston pointing fingers at people in photographs and (roughly) accusing them of terrorism.

In one case, they point out a man in a "blue robe" and how he's holding his backpack. "Also note that in the very far right pic, he is clutching his hand with a very tight grip as if the backpack is really heavy," one says. "That left hand is holding quite a lot of tension. The guy is trying to look nonchalant, maybe?" another replies. "Though, look at the angle of the shoulder straps. You would expect them to be pointing straight down if they were under the weight of 30-40lbs, not angled like that"

Guys, this isn't dissecting the quality of an animation on the PS3: this is a human being whose role in an act of terrorism is being debated in a public forum because of people's observations of the "tension" in his grip on his bag?

This is not how civil society works. There is a reason that police have procedures around investigations and evidence. Due process is important. It exists to systematize justice, and in doing so prevent the sort of excesses common when people take justice into their own hands. And if anything, we don't have *enough* due process in this country.

So if they were doing it for fun by posting memes about the robe guy and the other one instead of being serious about it, Alexis would find it more palatable?

confession bear

I think so. Mocking is okay; vigilante justice is not.

It could just be my utter cynicism at play here, but I think the reddit photoanalysis is what's caused the Feds to quietly cancel their 5p arrest announcement.  You can't just yell "ALEX JONES!!!!!!!11!1!" and ignore what the Redditors have found.... Weird shit.

It makes sense that the Feds are paying attention to Reddit.

Reddit vs the Media:

It’s easy to mock Redditors for an abundance of self-righteousness and a shortage of self-awareness. Really, guys? Reddit bills itself as “the front page of the Internet” and ranks as one of the most popular websites in the United States. You’re saying that when a popular post on the site goes viral, its users bear no responsibility for that?

On Reddit, “the media” has become a pejorative term. But let’s face it: Reddit is the media. The main difference between it and, say, a newspaper, is that Reddit’s content is posted and curated by amateurs through upvotes, downvotes, and occasional moderator interventions. Still, the results are similar: a top post on any given subreddit has a chance to reach as many viewers as a popular newspaper story, and in some cases far more. It’s disingenuous for the site’s users and moderators to disclaim responsibility for any harm caused by those posts—especially since they’re more than happy to claim credit when things turn out well.

But here’s the thing that many in “the media”—that is, the professional media—are overlooking. 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.

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