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Crowdsourcing Failed In Boston Bombing Aftermath

timothy posted 1 year,20 hours | from the well-not-entirely dept.

Crime 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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Some other relevant stories (5, Informative)

daveschroeder (516195) | 1 year,20 hours | (#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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (4, Insightful)

minstrelmike (1602771) | 1 year,20 hours | (#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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (4, Insightful)

jeffmeden (135043) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524803)

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:Some other relevant stories (4, Funny)

dintech (998802) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524963)

reddit...felt too much like a groupthink factory for my taste

Careful now, this withchunt could still happen on Slashdot too but in several days and with hot grits.

Re:Some other relevant stories (2, Insightful)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525039)

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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524489)

I actually saw one photo of black hat suspect in a thread on 4chan, but everyone ignored them for other 'suspicious persons' in the crowd. It wasn't entirely inaccurate, but it did suffer from groupthink and other group related problems.

Re:Some other relevant stories (4, Insightful)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524565)

Worse information, faster

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

Re:Some other relevant stories (5, Insightful)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524843)

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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524915)

In some of the picture links black hat and white hat were circled and found before and after the explosions. Yes the wrong people were also identified and after investigation they were cleared, like the Saudi guy the FBI first declared as a person of interest.

This seems like a bunch of sour grapes from the media companies that were equally bad with incorrect information (CNN in particular). They make their money telling us what the story is, and get off "shaping the narrative" AKA telling the plebs what to think. If we start working it out on our own they will be out of a purpose and like Queen Mab fade away.

Be right, not first lost to be first, forget right (5, Informative)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524975)

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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524721)

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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524999)

4Chan is taken seriously by some people.

Re:Some other relevant stories (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525069)

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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (4, Insightful)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | 1 year,20 hours | (#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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (1)

Inda (580031) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524607)

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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (2)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524683)

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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (1)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524917)

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 are exactly wrong in your premise. The more right information there is, the more conspiracy theories will appear to be batshit insane.

Re:Some other relevant stories (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525085)

Not that I disagree or anything, (I dislike Jones for other reasons) but they did raise many valid questions that the mainstream media will not. They specifically ignore many curious facts about the bombing and outright lie to us when forced to answer.

Do you simply think the Coach from Mississippi is lying about the drill?

Do you think the images of Craft Security on site are faked?

What about the fact that the bombers have been involved with the FBI for at least 5 years? Lemme guess, his aunt and mother are nuts too?

CNN getting facts wrong is one thing, they are only the mouthpiece of the authorities. Not raising the real questions about the days events makes them guilty as far as I am concerned.

A whole pinch? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524863)

Most people aren't like you, they take it with a grain of salt.
Google Fight agrees [googlefight.com] , and "pinch" was probably assisted by recipes.

Re:Some other relevant stories (1)

tnk1 (899206) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524755)

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 that provides some training on what to look for, or at least, how to report the information to people who know how to deal with it properly. Something like an FBI site where they flash photos at you and tell you exactly what to look for like the color and general shape of the bag/backpack. Anything that looks like it is smoking. Footage that might catch the bombs right when they went off, and if the image has a time index, etc. Once they find someone, they could tell you to trace the movements of white hat or black hat through the crowd. At that point it might be tricky because it exposes who they believe the suspects are, so maybe at that point they would take it in-house.

Re:Some other relevant stories (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524857)

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.

The Reddit/4Chan crowd needed more data. (1)

The Phantom Mensch (52436) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524935)

The combined Reddit/4Chan photo collection was pretty crappy and lacking in metadata. The website from which the pictures of the two high school kids that got "fingered" by Reddit was very upfront about stating that the picture of the two of them from Page 1 of the NYP was taken 3 hours before the bombing. Photos from the same source closer to the time of the blast don't show them or the bomb in place yet. This could have been used to discard them as subjects if that info was more widely known.

The police/FBI had a huge advantage in that they had all relevant surveillance camera imagery plus everything 4chan had, plus more, including the eye witness reports of the surviving victims. They were probably able to correlate that imagery to cell tower call records and narrow down what phoes were in use right there and then, including the bombers.

Re:Some other relevant stories (3, Interesting)

stewbee (1019450) | 1 year,19 hours | (#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

Re:Some other relevant stories (4, Interesting)

medv4380 (1604309) | 1 year,19 hours | (#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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (1)

jellomizer (103300) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524923)

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 suspicious about them.

Re:Some other relevant stories (1)

Enderandrew (866215) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524939)

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 everyone with a backpack.

Re:Some other relevant stories (3, Interesting)

Theaetetus (590071) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524991)

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.

Re:Some other relevant stories (1)

briancox2 (2417470) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525129)

The advantage of citizen journalism isn't that they tell us the truth. The ordained journalists do that just as well as citizen journalists. =/

The advantage of citizen journalists is MORE points of view. More data.

As a consumer of journalism, you have to be willing to understand that you are never really going to know the full truth about a situation like the Boston bombing because you weren't there and you probably didn't personally know anyone involved. Citizen journalists give us the advantage of hearing the same story from many different points of view. In years past, only ordained journalists were trusted to filter information for us. But with citizen journalism we can get EVERY point of view. It's up to us to be the filter.

Shocking (5, Insightful)

tgd (2822) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524439)

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

Early Crimefighting Crowdsourcing in Salem (5, Funny)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524449)

>> crowdsourcing

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

Re:Early Crimefighting Crowdsourcing in Salem (4, Informative)

martyros (588782) | 1 year,19 hours | (#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.

crowsourcing did NOT fail - here's why (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524451)

first of all, crowdsourcing did NOT fail!

and here's why:

the private footage that was used by the FBI to get the pictures of the suspect were never released to the public,
so there was NO crowdsourcing of this information to begin with.

you can't say it failed unless they were provided equal information, and they were not.

also, when the pictures were finally released, crowdsourcing SUCCEEDED brilliantly!

the suspects were identified with lightning speed, and caught soon after.

I would say this was a rousing success for crowdsourcing, not a failure.

give the crowdsourcing all the data, and see how it works, then you can talk about whether if failed or not!

Re:crowsourcing did NOT fail - here's why (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524465)

Sure you can say it failed. It failed to even gather that information.

Re:crowsourcing did NOT fail - here's why (1)

daveschroeder (516195) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524499)

You're acting as if information was "withheld"...it wasn't. There is no mechanism to release every single piece of evidence collected by every agency to the internet and "crowdsource" it.

What was "crowdsourced" was information that was already on the internet. Furthermore, the FBI did, in fact, release the relevant snippets of video and pictures from the private security cameras and other sources.

Sorry, but "crowdsourcing" is not always the answer, and this was not a success, much less a rousing one.

Re:crowsourcing did NOT fail - here's why (1)

hawguy (1600213) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524845)

You're acting as if information was "withheld"...it wasn't. There is no mechanism to release every single piece of evidence collected by every agency to the internet and "crowdsource" it.

He didn't say it was "withheld", he said it was unavailable, which is true.

If the FBI wanted to test crowdsourcing, they could easily come up with a mechanism to make all of the video and still photos available to the public - they could set up a web page (leveraging commercial offerings like Youtube and Flickr if they didn't want to build their own) with every single piece of footage they have. There are lots of reasons why they wouldn't do that, of course, but to claim that crowdsourcing failed when the crowd didn't have access to the all of the data that the investigators had is not fair.

Re:crowsourcing did NOT fail - here's why (5, Insightful)

abigsmurf (919188) | 1 year,20 hours | (#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!

Re:crowsourcing did NOT fail - here's why (3, Interesting)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524731)

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".

Re:crowsourcing did NOT fail - here's why (1)

Americano (920576) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524751)

Also, when the pictures were finally released, crowdsourcing SUCCEEDED brilliantly!

Yeah, succeeded in brilliantly mis-identifying one of the suspects as missing Brown student Sunil Tripathi, and the other as somebody named Mike Mulugeta, after "somebody heard that name on a scanner."

And before that, it was "blue robe guy." And before that, it was "blue tracksuit guy" and his suspicious friend. And before that (and still), "those two guys from Craft International, conducting an obvious false flag." And before that, anybody else who happened to be pictured anywhere along the marathon route matching any of these criteria:
-- "vaguely brown"
-- looking at or holding a cell phone
-- wearing or carrying a bag or a backpack
-- happened to be looking in a different direction than most of the crowd in the split-second that the photo was taken;
-- happened to simply look like someone who some guy on reddit once had an argument with.

No, the "crowd" engaged in ridiculous histrionics, and it rapidly devolved into a travesty: a game of "Telephone" conducted in an echo chamber.

Re:crowsourcing did NOT fail - here's why (1)

phantomfive (622387) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524973)

also, when the pictures were finally released, crowdsourcing SUCCEEDED brilliantly!

Yeah, once it was obvious what to look for, the 'many eyes' solution worked well.

The problem came when the solution wasn't obvious, people jumped to conclusions without considering that their idea might not be right, or even testing their idea further.

Like I am doing right now, I just guessed randomly. I created a hypothesis, now I need to figure out a way to test it. If people realized that half their ideas are merely hypotheses, the world would be a better place.

Libel (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524457)

No, they don't regret it yet.

They might regret it after the libel suits pop up.

Then maybe the rest of the internet will learn something.

The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524469)

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.

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524529)

"They will get their day in court" hahah...how? One is dead and one cant talk..how convenient.. you moron

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525029)

Go back to Infowars, Alex.

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (0)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524601)

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.

If anonymous speech didn't exist, this wouldn't have happened. The problem is anonymous speech.

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (1)

eldavojohn (898314) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524815)

If anonymous speech didn't exist, this wouldn't have happened.

That's not true at all. Anonymous speech has existed for a long time. Look at something as inane as graffiti, no newspaper is reprinting graffiti on its front page and saying "Now we know who killed JFK." Conversely, if graffiti contained something thought provoking or poetic in its own right, it might make the front page -- say if it was Banksy commenting on social problems.

The problem isn't anonymity, the problem is that people took what was being posted anonymously and gave it undue credibility. If you read about my experiences with drug abuse on Slashdot and you walk away with a life lesson, it doesn't really matter if those drug addiction stories are true or not. It would be nice to be able to verify it but it's not really necessary if what I'm saying rings true. But if I say "George W. Bush was behind 9/11" and you believe that without verifying it and then newspapers start to publish it, that's where the problems arise in an obvious manner.

The media was thirsty to break this story because of all the money it would bring them. Reddit and 4chan were all too happy to put on their inspector gadget hats and play the part of armchair detective. And that's fine, you can go make your subreddit all you want. The problem is when you start to act on it (harass the families) and when you start to disseminate it as "verified." Further problems arise when you then go back and delete and block all this stuff that implicates you as a liar because then your credibility is protected and you can always do it again.

The problem is anonymous speech.

No more so than the internet is the problem. Those are two tools used to carry out a witch hunt. Those aren't the problem, the problem are the irresponsible parties involved with propagating this from an internet forum to media and social networks. They preyed on confusion, hatred and fear without relying on law enforcement to do their job. Those are the real problems.

If you're going to reprint or reshare something as true and fact then you better verify your source. With anonymous speech, you can't verify your source so you should instead look for supporting evidence or not act on it at all and ignore it.

I was passed along three images following the bombing. I deleted them because they were completely unverifiable and had no attribution on them. And I turned out to be right.

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525107)

If anonymous speech didn't exist, this wouldn't have happened.

That's not true at all. Anonymous speech has existed for a long time. Look at something as inane as graffiti, no newspaper is reprinting graffiti on its front page and saying "Now we know who killed JFK." Conversely, if graffiti contained something thought provoking or poetic in its own right, it might make the front page -- say if it was Banksy commenting on social problems.

The problem isn't anonymity, the problem is that people took what was being posted anonymously and gave it undue credibility. If you read about my experiences with drug abuse on Slashdot and you walk away with a life lesson, it doesn't really matter if those drug addiction stories are true or not. It would be nice to be able to verify it but it's not really necessary if what I'm saying rings true. But if I say "George W. Bush was behind 9/11" and you believe that without verifying it and then newspapers start to publish it, that's where the problems arise in an obvious manner.

The media was thirsty to break this story because of all the money it would bring them. Reddit and 4chan were all too happy to put on their inspector gadget hats and play the part of armchair detective. And that's fine, you can go make your subreddit all you want. The problem is when you start to act on it (harass the families) and when you start to disseminate it as "verified." Further problems arise when you then go back and delete and block all this stuff that implicates you as a liar because then your credibility is protected and you can always do it again.

The problem is anonymous speech.

No more so than the internet is the problem. Those are two tools used to carry out a witch hunt. Those aren't the problem, the problem are the irresponsible parties involved with propagating this from an internet forum to media and social networks. They preyed on confusion, hatred and fear without relying on law enforcement to do their job. Those are the real problems.

If you're going to reprint or reshare something as true and fact then you better verify your source. With anonymous speech, you can't verify your source so you should instead look for supporting evidence or not act on it at all and ignore it.

I was passed along three images following the bombing. I deleted them because they were completely unverifiable and had no attribution on them. And I turned out to be right.

Witch hunts rely on mob mentality. Mob mentality stems from a feeling of anonymity. Removing anonymity would remove the mob mentality effect, and allow us to exploit the power of this type of technology for good purpose.

As long as it's not being done anonymously, it's a problem that will solve itself as people learn who and how far they can trust. When mistakes can't come back to haunt you, restraint goes out the window, and it's more difficult to identify who is credible. When you have to wear your mistakes, people can learn to recognize your limitations and not be led astray by them. That's not the same as "punishing" people for their mistakes. The better we understand peoples limitations, the better we can avoid overtaxing them and causing harm to everyone.

The problem is anonymity. We just saw what it causes. A waste of resources and undeserved harm to innocents. Get off your high horse. We need to stop being cowards hiding in the shadows and confront the problem.

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524629)

more proof that 4chan is more mature when compared to reddit...

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524757)

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 will come to their own judgement. It's fine to urge people to not jump to conclusions, but don't go throwing around courtroom rules as if they're the rules everywhere.

We live in an era of digital lynch mobs.

Which I think everyone would agree is better than real lynch mobs. Digital lynch mobs may inhibit the formation of real lynch mobs, as particularly hotheaded people eager to punish may relieve themselves through nasty facebook comments rather than grabbing a gun and literally killing the person in question. And digital lynch mobs also are easier to redirect than actual pitchfork lynch mobs. I'd wager the digital lynch mob pretty much evaporated when it came out they had identified the wrong person.

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525013)

Confessing to a hostage ... isn't an actual confession.

Which I think everyone would agree is better than real lynch mobs

Perhaps not Aaron Schwartz.

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (4, Interesting)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524781)

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.

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (1)

radarskiy (2874255) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525045)

"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."

You can say that they're wrong in the same way that a stopped clock is wrong even though it will match the correct time twice a day, or that homeopathy is wrong although a particular patient might have recovered. This example of crowdsourcing had to process that could result in a useful answer, except by accident. Whether the final result matches the actual perpetrator(s) is actually besides the point, since what we have is a process that provably cannot be depended on to produce anything useful more often than a random selection.

"Alleged Bombers" (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524805)

True! I mean, which one of us hasn't been involved in a deadly shootout with police while carrying pipe bombs?

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524909)

Not only this, but there was actual consideration in the justice department about whether there should be no court hearing at all, and instead have the suspect be given to a military tribunal.

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (2)

sribe (304414) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524987)

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 of his guilt.

Re:The Zero Accountability Rumor Mill (1)

darkmeridian (119044) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525097)

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 wrongfully obtained even though that makes it harder for the jury to find the truth. We feel that this is necessary to prevent the government from abusing civil rights.

Yes, the two guys are suspects from a legal standpoint. However, I will bet you at 100:1 odds that they were the guys responsible for planting the bomb at the Boston Marathon. Do you want to take that bet? If not, why is it hilarious to call them the bombers?

umm bullshit (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524497)

The crowdsourcing was the only investigation the DID WORK!

It's just the truth was being exposed and the FBI didn't like it interfering with their cover up. Good job america, now martial law is acceptable to you, while CISPA got passed and precious metals go dumped.

good game..

Re:umm bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524725)

You forgot to insinuate that someone was a lizard-man.

Reddit makes 4chan look mature... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524503)

Another example, of many of where Reddit users show an immaturity the likes of which 4chan will not even accept....

Re:Reddit makes 4chan look mature... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524873)

Uh... 4chan was doing the same fucking thing all over /b/.

Road Surface (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524517)

'Though started with noble intentions...

The paving stones of the path to hell.

It works (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524519)

Everyone seems to forget that the police and FBI could not find the final suspect, it was the crowd-sourcing by releasing people outside that did. I think crowd-sourcing is OK if we don't form up a mob with pitchforks, but instead turn all leads in to the authorities.

Shakespeare's Julius Caesare (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524563)

CINNA THE POET

        Directly, I am going to Caesar's funeral.

First Citizen

        As a friend or an enemy?

CINNA THE POET

        As a friend.

Second Citizen

        That matter is answered directly.

Fourth Citizen

        For your dwelling,--briefly.

CINNA THE POET

        Briefly, I dwell by the Capitol.

Third Citizen

        Your name, sir, truly.

CINNA THE POET

        Truly, my name is Cinna.

First Citizen

        Tear him to pieces; he's a conspirator.

CINNA THE POET

        I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet.

Fourth Citizen

        Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses.

CINNA THE POET

        I am not Cinna the conspirator.

Fourth Citizen

        It is no matter, his name's Cinna; pluck but his
        name out of his heart, and turn him going.

Third Citizen

        Tear him, tear him! Come, brands ho! fire-brands:
        to Brutus', to Cassius'; burn all: some to Decius'
        house, and some to Casca's; some to Ligarius': away, go!

Limited Data Set (1)

Alastor187 (593341) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524577)

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 very interesting to determine what conclusions would have been reached. That would have been a much better test of crowd sourcing.

Re:Limited Data Set (2)

Nidi62 (1525137) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524841)

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

Re:Limited Data Set (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524919)

Plenty of the photos the FBI has shared came from sources available to the public. Nobody found them until the FBI highlighted them and said, THESE are the guys we're interested in.

Very little of the footage was 'reserved to the fbi' - most of the images they released were actually cropped from stuff readily available on Flickr, Facebook, Youtube, etc.

Re:Limited Data Set (1)

Cenan (1892902) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524953)

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.

Re:Limited Data Set (1)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525043)

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.

Respecting peoples privacy (5, Insightful)

onyxruby (118189) | 1 year,20 hours | (#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?

Re:Respecting peoples privacy (0)

a_big_favor (2550262) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525055)

This is something that are country

Try our and you can't be serious. Europe has a pretty bad record of being big brother to it's people.

Re:Respecting peoples privacy (2)

onyxruby (118189) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525095)

I won't argue that Europe is much worse about big brother than the US, I think that's pretty well established. My point is that they take privacy much more seriously than we do and that is what we should emulate.

A bunch of lazy and stupid nerds (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524621)

Basically, that's what happens when a bunch of lazy and idiot nerdies begin to think they can do something relevant from their sofas. Slacktivism is a cancer.

Why does not one mention this? (1)

SengirV (203400) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524657)

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.

Re:Why does not one mention this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524967)

Turns out if you weed out all the failures you are left with only successes. Amazing!

Radios (1)

Optimal Cynic (2886377) | 1 year,20 hours | (#43524659)

Why do the Boston police use open radios anyway? If they used encrypted sets there wouldn't be people listening in on the scanner. Well, not as much anyway.

Re:Radios (1)

PPH (736903) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524893)

Encrypted radios are less reliable. There's a finite possibility that a critical transmission or part of one won't decrypt properly. If sensitive information needs to be exchanged, its easier for police officers to use cell phones, text messages, secure e-mail etc. Their dispatch radio systems need to be reliable.

Yeah, those trustworthy helpful people of 4chan?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524695)

If they're your best bet, you're FUCKED!

They probably did that on purpose.

Digital lynch mobs (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524703)

As the saying goes "none of us are as dumb as all of us".

Here's a fun game to play! (3, Funny)

Dixie_Flatline (5077) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524767)

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!

NPR Discussion (3)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | 1 year,19 hours | (#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.

Says who? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524897)

The first picture I saw of one of the alleged bombers was through one of 4chan, Reddit or 9gag (I'm not positive which because I was tabbing between them between customers). He had a bag that appeared to match the remains of one that had apparently held a pressure cooker bomb. I've been wondering ever since why the person who made the connection hasn't been mentioned in the mainstream media. Instead I see what, from my perspective, is an article claiming the media got it right (Our media? Sure. Right) and the nameless got it wrong. Says who? Oh yeah, the bought and paid for corporate schill media. Put down the koolaid.

4chan/2ch Witch Hunts (2)

darkfeline (1890882) | 1 year,19 hours | (#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?

Here is the reality (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43524947)

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.

Re:Here is the reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525123)

except for mindless content farming for clicks and impression .. $$$

It wasn't fully tried (1)

T.E.D. (34228) | 1 year,19 hours | (#43525067)

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 conference where they told everyone they'd failed to find the guy, and they could leave their houses.

Within 30 minutes, someone had spotted the guy and he was surrounded.

That's the power of crowd-sourcing. No matter how many cops they flooded the city with, it is no match for half a million ordinary citizens who know what looks out of place in their area and what doesn't.

I would say that in the future it would be a good idea to make it clear from the get-go that only the investigation is being crowdsourced. There are many very good reasons why we prefer to have a single authority performing the actual law enforcement duties of arrest, prosecution, etc. This whole episide does show the limits of crowdsourcing, but also its power if folks would just have the courage to get out of its way.

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