Crowdsourcing the Marathon Probe: Was It Helpful or Mob Rule?


In an era of digital interactivity, the hunt for the bombers behind the deadly Boston Marathon attacks unfolded around the U.S. from the desks of ordinary people, the Associated Press reports. Fueled by Twitter, online forums like Reddit and 4Chan, smartphones and relays of police scanners, thousands of people played armchair detective as police searched for men who turned out to be Chechen brothers who had immigrated from southern Russia years ago.

As amateur online sleuths began identifying possible culprits, people were wrongly accused or placed under suspicion by crowdsourcing. It showed the damage that digital investigators can cause. “The FBI kind of opened the door,” said Hanson Hosein of the University of Washington Master of Communication in Digital Media program. “It was almost like it was put up as challenge to them, and they rose to it. [ ] They can be either really helpful or mob rule.”

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