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Crowdsourcing Failed In Boston Bombing Aftermath 270

Posted by timothy
from the well-not-entirely dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "With emotions high in the hours and days following the Boston Marathon bombing, hundreds of people took to Reddit's user-generated forums to pick over images from the crime scene. Could a crowd of sharp-eyed citizens uncover evidence of the perpetrators? No, but they could definitely focus attention on the wrong people. 'Though started with noble intentions, some of the activity on reddit fueled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties,' read an April 22 posting on Reddit's official blog. 'The reddit staff and the millions of people on reddit around the world deeply regret that this happened.'"
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Crowdsourcing Failed In Boston Bombing Aftermath

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  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:06AM (#43524413)

    This has been a fascinating phenomenon, and it's only going to evolve more as time goes on.

    Crowdsourcing or witch hunt? Reddit, 4chan users try to ID Boston bomb suspects [cnet.com]

    Boston bombing: How internet detectives got it very wrong [bbc.co.uk]

    'I didn't do anything!' High school track runner forced to deny involvement in Boston Marathon bombings after a picture of him and his coach is widely circulated [dailymail.co.uk]

    Social media as breaking-news feed: Worse information, faster [cnet.com]

    Worse information, faster -- this neatly sums it up, and I'm a huge proponent of social media and its benefits, including to government.

    And for the record, no, the FBI wasn't seeking to "censor" anyone, and the "next logical step" (as I have seen asserted elsewhere) won't be to "shut down" internet or social media resources during major public emergencies; however, law enforcement agencies absolutely can request, once they have identified suspects via investigative and legal processes, that people focus on those instead of playing CSI: Internet.

    Sadly, the echo chamber of the internet enables some people, in seemingly increasing numbers, to go a step further and choose to believe everything is automatically a "false flag" conspiracy [wired.com] with the stated perpetrators "framed" [wired.com]â¦..

    The "wisdom of crowds" can be a misnomer.

    • by minstrelmike (1602771) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:11AM (#43524467)
      Wisdom of crowds is about the same as the wisdom of committees.In fact, America is a Representative Democracy precisely in order to (intended to at least) avoid mob justice--aka direct democracy.
      • by jeffmeden (135043) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:42AM (#43524803) Homepage Journal

        Wisdom of crowds is about the same as the wisdom of committees.In fact, America is a Representative Democracy precisely in order to (intended to at least) avoid mob justice--aka direct democracy.

        In other words... *this* is why we can't have nice things! I have nothing against reddit really, but it always felt too much like a groupthink factory for my taste (and that is saying something considering i still put up with slashdot). Anyway, more information is not the same thing as better information!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CanHasDIY (1672858)

        Wisdom of crowds is about the same as the wisdom of committees.In fact, America is a Representative Democracy precisely in order to (intended to at least) avoid mob justice--aka direct democracy.

        Minor contention: America (as in, the USA) is a Constitutional Republic, (allegedly) with Democratically elected Representation.

        You get the same mob rule issues with any pure Democracy; the difference between Direct and Representative is merely which mob is making the rules.

        • by utoddl (263055)

          Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner.

    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:20AM (#43524565) Homepage Journal

      Worse information, faster

      Actually, the live threads on reddit were pretty damn fast and accurate.

      • by PlusFiveTroll (754249) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:44AM (#43524843) Homepage

        This is a point that needs, um, pointed out more.

        The observational news on places like reddit was great. Pictures of the events unfolding. Areas where the gunfights occurred were mapped quickly. Blew the news agencies out of the water. There are more regular people seeing things happen then there are news reporters seeing things happen.

        The investigational information was pretty crap. Lots of names and pictures of people being tossed out that had nothing to do with it. That said, a lot of it is similar to how the police do investigations, the 'internet' just had less information. We didn't get to see things like CCTV footage and such.

        Other then telling people, don't take for granted what you read on the internet, not much can be done about the issue though. Some sites can censor information posted, but the rate information is posted will be faster than it can be redacted. Once a few people read it, they will spread that information too. That doesn't even take in to effect sites that will not censor any information. The fact is, with the camera filled world we live in these days, people are going to do their own investigation right or wrong.

        • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @11:16AM (#43525217) Homepage

          The investigational information was pretty crap. Lots of names and pictures of people being tossed out that had nothing to do with it. That said, a lot of it is similar to how the police do investigations, the 'internet' just had less information. We didn't get to see things like CCTV footage and such.

          The other big difference is that police investigations aren't broadcasting every phase of the investigation to the entire world. For an hour or two, they might suspect that student from a politically-inconvenient country, but the public (and the politicians of that politically-inconvenient country) will never know. On 4chan, every suspicion is public, ready to be picked up by the echo chamber and presented as fact to the whole world.

        • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
          It seems that many are quick to chalk it up as a failure. But I think crowdsourcing has a benefit - it just needs to find its niche. There's nothing wrong with getting a bunch of eyes on pictures to find people with backpacks. The next step is piecing the pictures together chronologically so those people can be systematically be removed from the list of possible suspects, ie, find the people who still had their backpacks and were too far away when it happened. Their job should stop there, and that's whe
          • On another forum I was posting a statement to the issue that in the future that personal image management is going to be even more important.

            If you see your image being broadcast over the internet and you've had nothing to do with it, go to the media with the story that it wasn't you. Also contact the police and make sure that they aren't putting effort in to investigating you either. Lastly, you might want to post to a few social media sites saying the same thing. Social media can spread the news that it w

            • by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @04:15PM (#43529019) Journal

              That's why I've gone one step further and completely disavowed my involvement with next weeks crime spree. I will not be the person underneath the ski mask. So don't wast my time processing any dna evidence or finger prints, or reading any state ids that might fall out of my pocket as I commit the cool crime of burglary, next week at the first federal bank downtown between the hours of 3-4 PM Wednesday in myTown, USA.

      • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:57AM (#43524975) Homepage

        Worse information, faster

        Reddit was a positive feedback loop. Good information may have been amplified-- but bad information was, too.

        Quoting from http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/19/17826915-missing-brown-university-students-family-dragged-into-virally-fueled-false-accusation-in-boston [nbcnews.com] "Reddit became overnight 'one of the more ugly and disgusting places that had a lot of traffic ... There were very intense and ugly comments throughout the last 12 hours.'"

        Actually, the live threads on reddit were pretty damn fast and accurate.

        Fast... but not always accurate.

        From the Atlantic's analysis http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/04/it-wasnt-sunil-tripathi-the-anatomy-of-a-misinformation-disaster/275155/ [theatlantic.com]
        " The next step in this information flow is the trickiest one. Here's what I know. At 2:42am, Greg Hughes, who had been following the Tripathi speculation, tweeted, "This is the Internet's test of 'be right, not first' with the reporting of this story. So far, people are doing a great job. #Watertown" Then, at 2:43am, he tweeted, "BPD has identified the names: Suspect 1: Mike Mulugeta. Suspect 2: Sunil Tripathi."
        The only problem is that there is no mention of Sunil Tripathi in the audio preceding Hughes' tweet. I've listened to it a dozen times and there's nothing there even remotely resembling Tripathi's name. I've embedded the audio from 2:35 to 2:45 am for your own inspection. Multiple groups of people have been crowdsourcing logs of the police scanner chatter and none of them have found a reference to Tripathi, either. It's just not there.
        "

        "Be right, not first" certainly failed big time.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:23AM (#43524593)

      To be fair, the New York Post failed pretty badly too, first fingering that Saudi guy and then printing the images of two unrelated high schoolers right on their front page.

      I'm not sure which one I'm insulting more when I'm comparing the New York Post to 4chan.

      • To be fair, the New York Post failed pretty badly too, first fingering that Saudi guy and then printing the images of two unrelated high schoolers right on their front page.

        To be fair, this is 100% the fault of the New York Post.

        I'm not sure which one I'm insulting more when I'm comparing the New York Post to 4chan.

        The behavior of The New York Post was far worse. People on 4chan have a reasonable expectation that no one will take them seriously. The New York Post is taken seriously by some people, so they should have been more responsible.

        • If you are putting Reddit up to the same (low) standards as the New York Post, you've already lost.

          They're pros at this sort of thing. You have to have a reputation to lose it.

      • by NatasRevol (731260) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:44AM (#43524831) Journal

        Don't forget, the Post also claimed 12 dead. For about 18 hours.

        • Don't forget, the Post also claimed 12 dead. For about 18 hours.

          To be fair though, they got three of the victims' names right. They were only wrong about Elvis, JFK, Amelia Earhart, and the 6 space aliens accompanying them having been killed. (And The Post *did* print a retraction the next morning, noting that 3 aliens had been slightly wounded by debris but were recoving fine in a secret government hospital located in a forgotten branch of Boston's subway system, whereas the remaining aliens and ce

      • by TWiTfan (2887093)

        The New York Post is only slightly more credible than a homeless guy on a street corner mumbling to an invisible friend. Slightly

    • by oh_my_080980980 (773867) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:23AM (#43524599)
      Crowd Sourcing by another name is called Mob Mentality. More people doing "something" does not improve the quality given the quality or lack there of the input.
    • by Inda (580031)
      IF a lot of people were like me, they took it all with a pinch of salt. I knew the FBI were doing the same thing - the studying of video and images - and I knew they'd do a better job.

      I hope to see it all happen again because, as you say, it was fascinating. I also hope people take an extra pinch of salt and don't make the phone calls, house calls and propagate the witch hunt.
      • Sadly, most people are not like you. Furthermore crazy as all hell people picked up on redit and 4chan treating them as valid sources, and propagated it as truth over the airways (Glen Beck, Alex Jones, ect). The more wrong information there is, the more conspiracy theories will spring up from the insane.

        • More or less information has historically not stopped conspiracy theories from being invented by the insane. Less information example: Area 51.

          The more observational information that is out there, the LESS conspiracy theories appear to be valid. Take the shootout that occurred between the police and the bombers. It was captured by a reddit user and posted to twitter pretty quickly after it happened. The photos and the explanation of what happened as told to us by the Boston police match up rather well. You

        • You are honestly stating that Glen Beck is a 4chan user/reader?

      • by moeinvt (851793)

        The ONLY reason the authorities could do a "better job" is that they had access to more information. The data which set off the manhunt was from a security camera near the scene of one of the explosions.

        I think it's good to have millions of eyes poring over the vast amounts of data. I also think the "crowd" found some interesting things. Absent any other data, the two guys on the cover of the New York Post deserved to be interviewed at least. Two guys, two backpacks that were similar to the shredded bac

    • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:29AM (#43524669)

      If you want to find out the IQ of a crowd, take the dumbest person's IQ and divide by the number of feet.

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      The idea is sound, but the reality is that you need some training to understand what you are looking for. I imagine the FBI looked at many of the same incorrect images and were able to discard them because they had some idea what to look for.

      Of course, the other problem wasn't just the incorrect identification, but also the witch hunts. That alone is probably a good reason to simply stay out of this sort of crowdsourced game.

      I'd suggest that perhaps the FBI or some other group form a crowdsourced group th

      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        The idea is sound, but the reality is that you need some training to understand what you are looking for. I imagine the FBI looked at many of the same incorrect images and were able to discard them because they had some idea what to look for.

        They also had access to much more security cam footage (better information) than anyone on the interwebs did. A security camera watching the same spot for hours on end is a lot more objective than a stream of photos taken opportunistically by the crowd.

      • by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@ w o r f.net> on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @11:15AM (#43525213)

        Of course, the other problem wasn't just the incorrect identification, but also the witch hunts. That alone is probably a good reason to simply stay out of this sort of crowdsourced game.

        Or the saying goes - the more things change, the more they stay the same.

        The fact you bring up witch hunts illustrates it brilliantly - all that's happened is we've moved the angry mob with pitchforks online and globally. But we're still basically the same after what, 300 years?

        The only really good thing is it was solved before the lynching and trials began in earnest. Otherwise what's really happened is Salem all over again.

    • by stewbee (1019450) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:41AM (#43524795)
      One of the best lines from a movie in recent history that is so true that I think really applies:

      A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it. -Agent K from Men in Black
    • by medv4380 (1604309) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:48AM (#43524883)
      I believe the Wisdom of the Crowd only works when the crowd is ignorant of what it's doing. The moment the crowd is aware of what it's doing it starts giving bad answers.
    • Crowdsourcing is a good brain storming method. However for the bombings there isn't really that much brain storming needed, we see all the people each one could have done it. So the Crowdsourcing would just filter out the easily dismissed people. But so can a small team of trained people. As for really pinpointing to a person. The Crowd isn't going to work too well. A lot of them will focus on stereotypes, or people they have in mind and just focus on that person looking for something slightly suspicio

    • The initial intent of the subreddit was to find anyone who was seen at the scene with a backpack and pass all of those photos on to the FBI. That intent was noble, and the work could have been useful.

      Then someone out of the blue called two people suspects with no evidence (other than the color of their skin) and people accepted it without asking for any reason why they were suspects. That was the clear failure.

      The mods of the subreddit failed to direct people back to the original purpose of just finding eve

    • Worse information, faster -- this neatly sums it up, and I'm a huge proponent of social media and its benefits, including to government.

      Although I agree that social media provides worse information, faster, it also provides good information, equally fast. The problem is separating the wheat from the chaff, or the signal from the noise.

      But, that's well understood - we know that a large portion of what we see on social media is going to be rumor and speculation, and we take it with a significant grain of salt and skepticism. The problem here is when traditional media forgoes investigation and simply reposts the same rumors and speculation, but with the imprimatur of broadcast or print journalism: someone on Reddit IDs the kid in the blue jacket, and we all go "mmmhmm, maybe, I don't know." The New York Post puts his picture on the front page saying the FBI is seeking him, and suddenly it's official and real... but of course, it never was. And this failure was repeated over and over with the media attempting to keep up with Twitter, and as a result constantly having to correct themselves, withdraw prior statements.

      In other words, it's not crowdsourcing that failed - the entire point of crowdsourcing is that you get hundreds of answers, most of which are wrong, but a few of which will be correct - but the media taking the results of that crowdsourcing and rebroadcasting it as true and official without any verification.

      • by DerekLyons (302214) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [retawriaf]> on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @12:21PM (#43526033) Homepage

        I can summarize your comment very simply: "Crowdsourcing! Crowdsourcing! Rah! Rah! Rah! - but don't look behind the curtains. We got many things wrong, but ignore those. It's not our fault. Crowdsourcing! Crowdsourcing! Rah! Rah! Rah!"
         

        In other words, it's not crowdsourcing that failed - the entire point of crowdsourcing is that you get hundreds of answers, most of which are wrong, but a few of which will be correct

        Um, no. The idea behind crowdsourcing is to get many eyes and minds working on a problem in search of a correct solution - many hands make light work, and subject matter experts lurk behind the oddest of usernames. If you fail to find a correct answer, then you've failed. Period.

    • The gov didn't censor much because they want the public to see how good it feels to track down terrorists and get the public involed in th game. Once they're hooked on the game its much easeir for the crowd to accept the next step - more restrictive laws. Yes congratulations citizen for catching those terrorosts.

  • Shocking (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tgd (2822) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:09AM (#43524439)

    Perhaps this is why a defined legal system is more valuable than the historically-standard mob rule.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:10AM (#43524449)

    >> crowdsourcing

    Why not - they wouldn't have found all those witches in 1692 without crowdsourcing.

    • by martyros (588782) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:42AM (#43524801)

      Why not - they wouldn't have found all those witches in 1692 without crowdsourcing.

      Actually, the worst of the Salem witch trials was that they weren't crowd-sourced, but were an epic failure of the actual legal system at the time. Every person killed was tried and sentenced by a panel of 7 professional judges with years of experience, most of whom carried on with their professional careers afterwards. Reading it is like a textbook example of why we have these basic rights, like "presumption of innocence", "trial by jury", "right to an attourney", &c -- and should be a warning to anyone who thinks that we need to "get tough on crime" by taking away protections like these.

  • As detailed in my last post [slashdot.org] on this topic, some responsible individual on Reddit named Thirtydegrees decided to give us a little background on what went down [reddit.com] (I know it's long but it's worth the read for chronological context).

    But wait! We can do better than that! Let's go look at /r/FindBostonBombers to see exactly what happened! Well, you can't [reddit.com]. Oddly enough, the founder of that subreddit decided that he should just set it to private (here's a Reddit friendly vulgar meme [memegenerator.net] of my request). Guess what? The founder of findbostonbombers doesn't want to be identified [theatlanticwire.com]! Bizarre that he/she would create a subreddit devoted to identifying people and then themselves think that it's completely acceptable for their identities to be protected. Should you have a right to know who is accusing you of what? Well, you find out that you have done something wrong ... time to own up to it, right? Right? No! Not in the futuristic amazing world of crowdsourcing!

    Also hilarious is that they are saying the bombers have been found. Wrong. Whatever they did, they are still innocent until proven guilty! I am quite upset with everyone dropping the "alleged" word and referring to them as "the bombers" instead of "the suspects." They will get their day in court, that's how this stuff works. That's what lead to all the bad stuff that happened in /r/findbostonbombers. They went straight from "we have images that our untrained eye finds suspicious" straight to "these are the guys who killed innocent people, help us identify them and harass their families."

    We live in an era of digital lynch mobs.
    • Guess what? The founder of findbostonbombers doesn't want to be identified [theatlanticwire.com]! Bizarre that he/she would create a subreddit devoted to identifying people and then themselves think that it's completely acceptable for their identities to be protected.

      Only bizarre if you forget he/she didn't set it up to identify ANYONE, just the bombers. The people who murdered. Bit like saying it's bizarre that cops ticket speeders BUT OMG THEY SPEED WHEN THERE'S AN EMERGENCY!!!

      Also hilarious is that they are saying the bombers have been found. Wrong. Whatever they did, they are still innocent until proven guilty! I am quite upset with everyone dropping the "alleged" word and referring to them as "the bombers" instead of "the suspects."

      That's not only pedantic, as they confessed to their hostage, but you're also wrong: "innocent until proven guilty" is only the standard (in theory) for courts. Not reality. They're either guilty or not independent of whether anyone proves it to a court, and the public can and invariably wil

    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:40AM (#43524781) Homepage Journal

      I am quite upset with everyone dropping the "alleged" word and referring to them as "the bombers" instead of "the suspects."

      This isn't just a legal exercise, it's an epistemological one. I keep seeing different stories about who was shot when (was it in a boat or when he was fleeing?) who was run over by whom (by a police cruiser, by his brother) who was returning fire or not, who was throwing bombs or not, when the throat injury was inflicted, who left the scene wearing a backpack or not, who stayed at the scene of an imminent bomb explosion, or not. Even the stories that are heavy on background [antiwar.com] are simultaneously flawed in analysis.

      The details have been changing every day and continue to change. Hopefully the stories will converge on the truth. Frankly, I'm not going to pay close attention anymore because it's basically a waste of my time. Hopefully some journalists will do that to sell a good story and I'll read the wrap-up in a few weeks.

      There may be a few people inside Boston PD who have a clear picture of the complete situation, but even that I doubt. Anybody else who claims to "know what happened" is either being fooled or is fooling themselves. It's a soup of dis- and mis-information out there right now, and we're not going to solve it on Slashdot either.

      In the meantime, to declare that crowdsourcing "got it wrong" is to insist that there's an objective measure of "correct" at this point to justify such an assertion and is premature.

    • by sribe (304414)

      I am quite upset with everyone dropping the "alleged" word and referring to them as "the bombers" instead of "the suspects."

      That's a legal distinction, binding on the government and prosecutors. There's nothing wrong at all with me, or anyone else, declaring them guilty in the face of their actions in Cambridge/Watertown. They're 100% guilty as hell, and we all know it. The fact that the surviving one will have an opportunity, if he so chooses, to attempt to prove otherwise at a trial is a vitally important part of our attempt to maintain a decent society with respect for individual rights--but it doesn't affect the obviousness

    • I find hilarious people who assume that the legal concept of the presumption of innocence is more important than "the truth". That is because the law is not always concerned with determining the truth. It has other purposes such as fair play, or legislative intent, or public policy. For instance, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that tomatoes are legally vegetables even though they are scientifically fruits. In another instance, we have Miranda rights that excludes evidence that was w

  • Witch Hunts (Score:5, Funny)

    by tompaulco (629533) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:17AM (#43524525) Homepage Journal
    Witch Hunts? In Massachusetts? Surely, you jest.
  • s/Crowdsourcing Failed/Witch Hunting Succeeds In Boston Bombing Aftermath
  • Could a crowd of sharp-eyed citizens uncover evidence of the perpetrators? No, but they could definitely focus attention on the wrong people.

    This isn't totally fair. While there are certainly a lot of opportunities for amateur detectives to end up focusing on the wrong people, the reality is that information available online was limited. It was not the same set of data that the government had access to. Unless the actual perpetrators were documented in the online data set, and it doesn't appear they were, the online search was bound to fail.

    Had the online community been given the exact same set of information as the FBI, it would have been ver

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      Except this case shows why crowd sourcing this type of thing shouldn't be done, and you say it yourself: they did not have access to all of the data and information. Government officials will have statements from eye witnesses, footage from CCTV, physical evidence at the scene, etc. All the online "detectives" have access to is what was released by the media: some photos and ramblings of reporters who themselves had access to incomplete data. And this only compounded the problem when a mainstream "news"

      • Except this case shows why crowd sourcing this type of thing shouldn't be done, and you say it yourself: they did not have access to all of the data and information. Government officials will have statements from eye witnesses, footage from CCTV, physical evidence at the scene, etc. All the online "detectives" have access to is what was released by the media: some photos and ramblings of reporters who themselves had access to incomplete data. And this only compounded the problem when a mainstream "news" source like the New York Post went to Reddit instead of the government for ID of the suspects in an effort to be the first to broadcast pictures. It basically comes down to this: if you aren't there on the ground, if you don't have hands-on access to the raw, unfiltered data, you do not know everything and you need to shut the hell up, because all you are doing is spreading more disinformation at a time when the signal to noise ratio is already heavily skewed towards the noise.

        Basically, incomplete data leads to inaccurate analysis

        Unless I'm mistaken, in the UK, they allow the public to view the CCTV feeds. Little old ladies who used to peek out their window can now assist with enforcing a minimum standard of behavior. The problem as you've identified it would be eliminated if there was more transparency.

        • by Nidi62 (1525137)

          Unless I'm mistaken, in the UK, they allow the public to view the CCTV feeds. Little old ladies who used to peek out their window can now assist with enforcing a minimum standard of behavior. The problem as you've identified it would be eliminated if there was more transparency.

          It sounds like the UK has a bigger problem: the pervasiveness of government CCTV feeds is so great that they can allow the public to look at them. Most CCTV feeds in the US are privately owned (businesses). Your "more transparency" comes at the expense of a much less privacy.

    • by Cenan (1892902)

      Asked and answered above.
      Even if the data was incomplete, the crowdsourcing effort still fingered the wrong people. If it had been a success the effort would have come up with a null answer.

    • If people saw the investigative processes unfold, it would look a lot like this. Just like online, they would give more attention to people carrying backpacks or other large objects. They would gather photo and video evidence, and they'd have the benefit of better geographical location of where each was took. They also have access to the private cameras of businesses. All the people that 4chan pointed out as suspects were also suspects to the police till they could be eliminated from the list.

  • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@@@comcast...net> on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:23AM (#43524605)

    This is something that are country tends to fail miserably at and unfortunately you can't blame it all on corporations. The media very much deserves a large part of the blame for this with an attitude that everyone's private business is public business. It's not just this issue, Gawker took their anti-gun crusade and published peoples personal addresses after they followed New York law and registered their guns.

    Example after example of the media blatantly disregarding people's privacy can be cited with entirely too much ease. As a society we should be ashamed of events like this and look to Europe for guidance on respecting other peoples privacy. Perhaps someday the right for privacy should be the next great civil rights crusade?

  • The crowd sourcing, in this case, only has a tiny percentage of the video/images the authorities had. So logically, the list of legit suspects runs out quickly, and then you have LOTS of outliers being tagged as well. Then you throw in the idiots who's only justification for tagging someone is "brown" and where else do you expect this to go.

    Weed out the "brown" taggers, ignore everything after the 1st 6 hours, and you have a set of suspects that were actually somewhat legit.

  • Find your Boston Bomber name!

    Find your Boston Bomber name by taking the first name of an innocent man and the second name of an innocent man and posting it on reddit.

    Whee!

  • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:41AM (#43524799)

    I listened to a discussion of the relative success or failure of "the internet" in helping with the Boston attack on the NPR show Tell Me More yesterday. The discussion was mostly aimed at Twitter because the host and guests know about it, but I think they were actually discussion the Reddit activity without realizing it. One of the guests, who was a professor of...internet stuff at Harvard made a claim that had me rolling my eyes with abandon.

    He claimed that 80 or 90 percent of posts on Twitter were useful collaborations that have value and that the empty and troll posts all fit into the remaining 10 or 20 percent. That's absurd. As one of the internet people who really sees this stuff from the trenches, I'd estimate that fewer than 10% of total Twitter traffic can reasonably be called valuable.

    Journalists love Twitter, though, which is one of the reasons Twitter is successful. Old media loves to refer to Twitter. The BBC World News has a segment in every show where they read (almost always trite and stupid) tweets about the stories they just reported. In doing so they increase Twitter's popularity and then associate themselves with Twitter in order to be hip. Underlying it all is the uglier truth that was openly discussed on Tell Me More: the journalist guests insisted that the ability to get news 15 minutes after events occur is far more important than the fact that this news is usually incorrect. They're outsourcing the irresponsibility of irresponsible journalism, letting them claim to break news first and then when they're wrong they can simply blame their anonymous sources. Journalistic integrity means so little in news sources now, but because of the terrible way the market works, a 15 minute delay is vastly better than a 120 minute delay.

    Society would best be served with slower, more curated news, but markets don't optimize results for societal benefit.

  • by darkfeline (1890882) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:50AM (#43524905)

    I wanted to say "Look redditors are stupid, 4chan/2ch are much better at things like this", but I only have anecdotal evidence from the few cases I've heard (hunting down kitten killers and stuff like that). Does anyone have any data on the "success" rate of witch hunts on 4chan and 2ch?

  • When a bomb explodes, you run away, you don't stop to take pictures.

    The only failure is people that were not there assuming that crowdsourcing should be able to solve this.

    BTW, this is why we have trained professionals to solve crimes, and not leave it to the idiot masses. Crowdsourcing is not an intelligent solution to anything.

  • The road to Hell is paved with 'em.

  • To be fair, the video that investigators used to identify the two bombers was never released to the public (AFAIK, it *still* hasn't been released). So its tough to say that crowdsourcing the investigation "failed", when it wasn't really a fair test.

    A far better test would be to look at what happened on Friday when the suspects were being hunted for. All day they insisted everybody in town hide indoors to not "hamper" the search. Then at the end of a day of failure they gave a very dejected press conferen

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      To be fair, the video that investigators used to identify the two bombers was never released to the public (AFAIK, it *still* hasn't been released). So its tough to say that crowdsourcing the investigation "failed", when it wasn't really a fair test.

      It will never have a fair test, because there is no way they could ever have the amount and quality of information the authorities have. Are you going to put up every shred of video found during the investigation online for people to look at? Transcripts of every eye witness or victim? In investigations such as these the public will always have less information than the government, and that is as it should be. The authorities are trained in this, have experience in this, and lastly, they have accountabi

    • by bws111 (1216812)

      Are you seriously suggesting that it would have been wise for the police to encourage (or at least not discourage) the public to help look for someone they had every reason to beleive was extremely dangerous? Probably the only reason the they guy who found him in the boat isn't dead is because the bomber was too weak from being injured and hiding out all day. If the 'crowds' had been 'helping' all day there is a very good chance that there would be more bodies.

  • The key revelation as to identifying one of the bombers was testimony given by one of the bombing victims who saw the guy drop the bomb at his feet.

    http://www.capitalbay.com/uk/332410-boston-bombing-suspect-identified-by-double-amputee-victim-who-woke-up-and-described-man-to-fbi.html [capitalbay.com]

    Video was important as a way of verifying things, but for the real answer you had to be there. Literally.

  • "Mob mentality continues to be irrational and unreliable when using digital means."

    Might make an interesting psychology or sociology paper material here for someone working on a thesis, but it honestly doesn't seem that surprising.

  • by Jodka (520060) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @11:44AM (#43525549)

    Crowdsourcing did not fail because what occurred was not crowdsourcing.

    There is a distinction between, on the one hand, the emergent behavior which spontaneously arises from ungoverned social interaction and, on the other hand, the management practice of dividing and framing a problem such that it can be solved by large, loosely-affiliated groups of anonymous individuals working in parallel. The latter is crowdsourcing. The former, in the case of attempts to identify Boston Marathon suspects in online fora such as reddit, is a vigilante mob.

    At least that interpretation is consistent with the conventional usage of the term "crowdsourcing" up to this point. Consider well-known examples such as the Mechanical Turk [wikipedia.org], the search for the wreckage of Steve Fosset's plane [wikipedia.org] and prediction markets such as Iowa Electonic Markets [uiowa.edu]. In all case the role of any individual in the crowd is predefined and constrained in advance by design. Constraints can include the dimension of response and the information to be evaluated.

I tell them to turn to the study of mathematics, for it is only there that they might escape the lusts of the flesh. -- Thomas Mann, "The Magic Mountain"

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