In the past few days, many have taken issue with Reddit and the site’s users for misguidedly attempting to identify the Boston bombers — up to and including wrongly accusing a Brown University student of being one of the bombers — using photographs taken near the site of the explosions on the day of the race. In a Boston Herald op-ed piece, Jessica Van Sack wrote:
Dozens of users on the social news forum Reddit resolved to launch their own public investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings by analyzing reams of publicly available photos of the attack sites. It’s called crowdsourcing, and it was a dismal failure.
The bizarre mess of finger-pointing was largely confined to a subreddit, or forum, titled Find Boston Bombers.
Created by a 23-year-old British man who never set foot on the marathon route, the forum soon spun out of control.
All the “suspects” were innocent bystanders.
They had their faces enlarged, circled in red and were given glib nicknames. There was “blue robe guy” and “green hat man” and “roof man.” Users singled out people in photos for holding their backpacks too tightly or looking too serious. False suspects were pointed to because of their race. And some, for all we know, were among the more than 170 victims of the blasts.
The low point for Reddit’s gumshoes came in the wee hours of Friday’s manhunt, when a member claimed to have heard compelling chatter on a police scanner. But the information was wrong and cruel: that missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi, 22 — who hasn’t been seen since March — was a suspect in the bombings. Worse still: Some media outlets ran with this despicable smear.
In response to the criticism, Reddit GM Erik Martin offered an apology.
During the tragedy and the aftermath, people found many different avenues to help on reddit. The vast majority of these activities were positive. They provided a way for people to stay informed, as well as a place to just discuss, cope, and try to make sense of what happened. Primarily, reddit served as a great clearinghouse for information. Continual ongoing updates by users such as /u/JpDeathBlade, /u/cedargrove, /u/NeonRedSharpie. /u/_supernovasky_ made reddit one of the best sources for staying up-to-date about the recent events. On top of that, redditors did everything from donating to relief funds, having pizzas delivered to area police and hospitals, to arranging for people with dogs to bring them to a park so people could escape a bit with some cute animal therapy, and even arranging housing and transportaion for out-of-towners who were stranded in Boston because of the bombing. We are all incredibly proud that the reddit platform enabled this help.
However, 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. The reddit staff and the millions of people on reddit around the world deeply regret that this happened. We have apologized privately to the family of missing college student Sunil Tripathi, as have various users and moderators. We want to take this opportunity to apologize publicly for the pain they have had to endure. We hope that this painful event will be channeled into something positive and the increased awareness will lead to Sunil’s quick and safe return home. We encourage everyone to join and show your support to the Tripathi family and their search.
Good rule of thumb: leave the actual police work to the police, nerds.
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