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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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  • Shocking (Score:5, Insightful)

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

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

  • by minstrelmike (1602771) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @09:11AM (#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 eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @09:11AM (#43524469) Journal
    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.
  • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @09:20AM (#43524565) Homepage Journal

    Worse information, faster

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

  • by oh_my_080980980 (773867) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @09:23AM (#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 onyxruby (118189) <.onyxruby. .at. .comcast.net.> on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @09:23AM (#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?

  • by abigsmurf (919188) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @09:26AM (#43524645)
    Yeah, who cares if one teenager got put through hell and the parents of another missing teenager experienced even more heartbreak, eventually they identified the real people (after seeing them identified by actual responsible news reporters) and had no noticeable impact on the man hunt!
  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @09:42AM (#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!

  • by PlusFiveTroll (754249) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @09:44AM (#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 CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:02AM (#43525039) 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.

    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 Sique (173459) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:10AM (#43525151) Homepage
    That's why Guantanamo was a bad idea from the start. (There is a second reason, elaborated nearly 400 years ago in Friedrich Spee [wikipedia.org]'s Cautio Criminalis.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:14AM (#43525191)

    "Crowd Sourcing" - "None of us, is as dumb as all of us"

  • by tlhIngan (30335) <[ten.frow] [ta] [todhsals]> on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:15AM (#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 Sarten-X (1102295) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:16AM (#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 Jodka (520060) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:44AM (#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.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:53AM (#43525657) Journal

    Either try them or release them. Those are your two civilized options.

  • by gorzek (647352) <gorzekNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @11:52AM (#43526469) Homepage Journal

    Online communities are invariably self-sorting, which is a tried and true recipe for groupthink and confirmation bias. In principle, an online community can support a broad, diverse range of views and skillsets. In practice, whatever shared worldview is most dominant among a community's members will, in time, come to define that community and drive out anyone not sufficiently adherent (other than trolls, who can be removed by fiat.)

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