Will Reddit Help Solve Boston Bombing or Merely Accuse Innocent People?


Users of the social-news site Reddit are trying to solve the Boston bombing, reports Slate. On a subreddit called findbostonbombers, a group of amateur sleuths is sharing theories and passing around publicly available crowd shots. Redditors have latched on to images of two different middle-aged men in the marathon crowd, each of whom appears to be holding a backpack with stripes on the straps. Why are those stripes relevant? They think the markings look similar to those in an FBI picture of a destroyed backpack found at the explosion scene.

The site has a proved ability to crowdsource digital clues, and its built-in voting system allows users to bump up the comments they deem most helpful. Redditors have been known to help solve a crime or two in the past—last year, one gearhead identified the make and model of the car involved in a hit-and-run just from a photo of its right front headlight. Still, labeling people as “suspicious” based on the scantest evidence can do real damage. Reddit users voted a post with the title “Does anyone remember Richard Jewell?” to the top of the findbostonbombers page. After invoking the name of the man falsely accused in the 1996 Olympic bombing, the user who created that thread writes, “Who knows? You may get lucky and your pet suspect turns out to be the bomber. But I’ve seen at least 10 people singled out, and not all of you are correct. You should be very very careful about picking and choosing who you think might have killed three people and wounded many more, based on where they were standing and if they were carrying a backpack or not.”

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