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Crowdsourcing Failed In Boston Bombing Aftermath 270

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 Bill, Shooter of Bul ( 629286 ) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @10:35AM (#43524731) Journal

    No, They were not identified with lightning speed after the images were released of the suspects. They were identified after they hijacked a car, told the passenger they were responsible for the bombings, let the passenger go, one of them was killed in a shootout and they police finger printed him. Even those people that saw the surviving suspect on a daily basis failed to identify him from the picture.

    I'd say that gathering of images from the crowds helped the police find the images of the bombers. But the crowds themselves, were actually pretty useless after that, unless you call the hijacked man or the boat owners 911 calls "crowd sourcing".

  • 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 [] 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 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.
  • 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 ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Tuesday April 23, 2013 @11:14AM (#43525185)

    Isn't that what happened/is happening in Gitmo?

    No. None of them have been burned alive, and they all have lawyers. And in many cases, we'd love to get rid of them, but can't find a country that will take them back. In other cases, they are more than just simple criminals, their associates continue in a deliberate attempt to kill people, and the means by which they were apprehended are in some cases extremely delicate. Should the administration not have run back and forth across the legal street like a squirrel in front of traffic while trying to decide whether to use a court in NY, then drop criminal charges, then re-instate military charges, and whatnot? Sure. But that's not the same as a lynch mob.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> 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.

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