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CSI : DYI - Reddit and 4Chan style

Originally posted by telemann at CSI : DYI - Reddit and 4Chan style

Reddit and 4Chan had identified this man as a potential bombing suspect
because 1. Black bag 2. The way he's carrying it. 3. Single male with a beard!

[How not to serve justice]

Due to the overwhelming use of cell phones, digital cameras, surveillance and security cameras, the Boston marathon tragedy is one of the most photographed crimes, and it stands to reason that in the thousands of images, the culprits can be found. And social media, particularly Reddit and 4chan, has been very busy trying to do just that: marking up potential suspects using all the photographic material. The trouble is, none of these folks are qualified in any sense to make any sort of informed judgements. Case in point:

Speaks for itself, right? GUILTY!

The issue is, the man is an plains-clothes police officer standing next to his partner, who were later seen with the first responders, assisting the victims after the explosions. Some have pointed out the media's lack of accuracy in reporting details that were all wrong (e.g. there were more than two bombs, other unexploded bombs were discovered, etc). And yesterday CNN got it really wrong, reporting the suspects had been arrested. The FBI has pleaded with the media to be more careful because in an effort to scoop their competition, because it could impact capturing and convicting the persons responsible. But some media observers are alarmed at this on-line vigilante justice. The Atlantic ran a feature entitled Hey Reddit, Enough Boston Bombing Vigilantism. As Alexis Madrigal noted: This is not how civil society works. There is a reason that police have procedures around investigations and evidence. Due process is important. It exists to systematize justice, and in doing so prevent the sort of excesses common when people take justice into their own hands. And if anything, we don't have *enough* due process in this country.

Alex Hern in a piece for The New Statesmen is alarmed too, in his article 4Chan plays racist Where's Wally to find the Boston bomber he writes

There's enough misinformation coming from the traditional media itself over the bombings. Reddit and 4Chan may think they're helping, but by flinging suspicion at innocent people with no real evidence, they're only spreading more rumours. The worst thing, though? Given the sheer weight of numbers behind this, chances are someone has drawn a circle around the actual bomber and written "suspicious?!" in red text on it. And even though if you libel enough people, you're bound to be right at some point, we'll be subjected to endless headlines about "how Reddit caught the Boston bomber" – and the whole cycle will be reinforced.

UPDATE: The two guys who Reddit fingered then backed down on are now being accused of being terrorists on the front page of one of America's biggest tabloids. If, as seems likely, they are entirely innocent, it will be interesting to see whether Reddit is directly responsible for starting that chain of misinformation.

[The FBI did NOT identify these men as suspects at the time of publication ]

I agree pretty much with most of these critiques of Reddit; and some of the idea that just by using logic and trusting our own eyes with all the raw evidence, we are qualified to suggest who is a possible suspect. Except we're not. I've always been skeptical of Internet CSI types, *precisely* because of things like this:

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