Cities Security & Privacy

Now, Everybody’s an Investigator

As the real-time manhunt continues in Boston—with the city on lockdown and one suspect still at large—we’re witnessing a profound shift in the role of the crowd. Since the Boston Marathon attacks on Monday, the public has been asked for by law enforcement officials, and taken it upon themselves, to help solve the crime. Having a plethora of evidence from a variety of sources—photos, video, and eyewitness accounts—has been key in the effort to apprehend the perpetrators.

But where it gets hazy is when the public, emboldened on sites like Reddit and 4Chan Think Tank, becomes judge and jury, and ends up wrongly implicating lookalikes. When media outlets like CNN do this, they are scrutinized for getting it wrong. When it happens on these crowdsourced sites, though, are there consequences?

Technology is blurring the line between private and public information like never before, with unknown and unintended results. As Matt Buchanan of the New Yorker writes, “These open excavations are operating at the center of a deep tension between notions of public and private…. These communities believe that, despite conducting their investigation in a fully public space, they should be able to talk about suspects freely inside this private space, without worrying out their chatter affecting real people in the real world.”

In the crowdsourced news era, what remains private? Is anything off limits anymore? There are no definitive answers yet, but the story continues to unfold.

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