While Police have used crowds to help identify perpetrators long before social media, the recent Boston attacks take the use of the public to investigate a crime to a whole new level.
Early on in the game members of the public have been very involved in trying to piece together information. Users have created Gifs that helped others view all pictures in sequence and the Twitter world was, well… atwitter with information. However, the good intentions have led to some misidentification of innocent people who were caught on camera in the wrong place with the wrong face.
We debated between ourselves the idea of law enforcement releasing all images and video available to them to the public and letting multiple brains worldwide do the work. It’s a simple numbers game – when you have hours and hours of footage and massive amounts of information, the more eyeballs you have the easier it would be to find that needle in the haystack. However, this is not without risk and may be a little too progressive for law enforcement which often likes to keep information under wraps, often rightfully so. Also, as our friend @T_Burrows put it “The danger lies in not properly investigating leads that are generated or not following up information. There in lies the problem with mass crowd sourcing. If anything is missed, or not properly actioned, you run the risk of being accused of nut fulfilling a complete investigation or discarding something based on time and other resources.”
But this debate didn’t last long, as the FBI just released the images of the two suspects. And now Crowdsourcing takes on its true meaning – it is the nerds’ time to shine.
Within two hours, users on two popular sites, reddit and 4chan – already identified the brands on the two baseball caps worn by the suspects, information that will undoubtly contribute to the investigation. This story is worth it’s own link: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/04/boston-bombing-suspects-investigation/64341/
There is absolutely no doubt that more Crowdsourced information will come soon. The lessons are clear.
- The public LIKES to help. Even those critical of law enforcement (many 4chan members are not exactly on the good side of the law) want to contribute to public efforts like these. Whether it is from pure intentions or a chance for some online street-cred , no one cares.
- The public CAN help. Perhaps law enforcement already knew about these caps. But perhaps they didn’t? And perhaps in the future they could delegate to the public and use the sensitive time to focus on other tasks ?
- The public SHOULD help. The effect of the Boston bombings go way beyond the casualties and even beyond the good people of Boston. We all want to catch these guys because we all feel attacked in some way shape or form. And as long as the public is encouraged to focus its energies on scrutinizing information and trying to come up with clues, there is less time for blame games, incitement and any other unpleasant side effects.