In defense of Reddit (with regard to the Boston bombing, and crowdsourced sleuthing)

"Law enforcement agencies regularly turn to sites like to help crack cold cases. Maybe there’s hope for Reddit," writes Tim Murphy in a piece at Mother Jones.
Redditors have, for years, worked to use the resources of crowds as a force for good. There's an entire subreddit dedicated to Redditors ordering pizzas for families and raising money for surgeries. But Boston represents a reality check. Can Reddit harness its greatest asset—the tireless brainstorming of millions—while reining in the speculative impulse that makes the site tick? And even if Reddit could solve crimes, would it be worth it?


  1. I kind of have a love/hate relationship with Reddit, but I do think that the traditional media outlets are taking this chance to try and cut Reddit down a bit by focussing on this controversy.

    Over the duration of the Boston manhunt, there were 10 or more consecutive threads, each attracting 20,000+ comments. Since there are technical limitations on the amount of comments in a thread, they are rolled over around this limit to provide continued coverage. The allegations about Sunil Tripathi and the subsequent sleuthing were made in one of those threads, but were dismissed by the time that the discussion rolled over into the next thread. There was a hell of a lot of useful information and discussion that happened before and after the incident.

    Journalists do seem to be missing the point too, in that this was not an act of crowdsourced citizen journalism that somehow failed to meet ethical standards. Instead, it was a new and fascinating attempt at a crowdsourced 24 hour rolling news.  That same steam of consciousness newsbabble that keeps us glued to commercial news broadcasts was reproduced pretty effectively by a handful of volunteers.

    1. Every wanted poster ever is an attempt at crowd sourcing, and it was the FBI who published photos of the suspects. In light of that I don’t think it is wrong to speculate on the identity of the suspects.

      1. Sorry, but no. A wanted poster is an image of a suspect that law enforcement has some actionable evidence on. And wanted posters don’t say “publish your speculation online, where it may remain forever and tarnish the name of an innocent person.” They say IF YOU HAVE INFO, CONTACT US.

    2. Those ten threads were the main rolling live update and comment threads, and I saw hundreds of comments in at least three of those threads insisting Trapathi or the guys from the NY Post cover were absolutely guilty, and that anyone who said otherwise were Liberal Dupes who wouldn’t use the eyes that God gave them to see the truth & hated the God fearing Christians who only wanted to spread the Truth about these evil brown skinned Terrorists. You didn’t see those comments because Redditors like me were down voting the Hell out of them for being baseless, evidence-free attacks. There were dozens of threads reporting these claims as news & giving the author’s “Proof” to support the claims; I know I down voted a number posted in News and Worldnews Reddits. I’m certain there were thousands of posts in opinion threads trying to spread the gospel that these guys were Guilty along with the evidence free “Proofs” even though I tried to stay out of the opinion threads (I tried to help debunk some of the claims about the Post cover’s suspects, trying to show their bags weren’t displaying the characteristics of carrying the weight that pressure cooker bombs would have. I didn’t have any evidence, either, but I showed the bombs couldn’t have been less then 25 pounds, and that a knapsack with that much weight hangs differently).

      These guys were everywhere, even in the Police Scanner transcription and Random Acts of Pizza threads, posting “news” from WND and Alex Jones, or their own image comparisons with circles and arrows with numbers and letters on them, or complaining that their links were being down voted without being given the hearing they deserved. Over, and over, and over again.

  2. I’d rather be wrongly accused at a reddit thread — which is quickly moderated and fixed — than on the first page of a printed newspaper. I am talking to you, Post.

  3. I don’t see how Reddit getting things wrong is any more harmful than traditional media blasting out incorrect information. At least Reddit quickly responds to new information and has no incentive to bend the truth. Genrally the fact checking that goes on there is swift and thorough.

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