Crowdsourcing in the Boston Marathon Bombing

Last week, millions of Americans hopelessly watched their television, laptop and smartphone screens as government and law enforcement officials attempted to identify the terrorist(s) behind the Boston Marathon Bombing. Many Americans, however, solved this feeling of hopelessness by using new media technology to assist with the identification of the people behind the Boston bombings.

Members of the Reddit community quickly created a themed page, or subreddit, dedicated to finding those responsible. Based on hazy photos and fueled by users’ racial profiling, the online community misidentified a Brown University student of Indian descent as the suspect.

After the FBI officially identified two men as “persons of interest,” another crowdsourcing platform incorrectly attacked the suspects’ nationalities. The men, who have loose ties to Chechnya, garnered misinformed tweets that called for the bombing of the Czech Republic.

As researchers that spend the majority of our time digging through material online, we also adhere to the overly-optimistic thought that crowdsourcing can be used positively. Crowdsourcing accuracy, however, is still an area for improvement.

Joanna Piacenza

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