The kerning sleuths are on the case. Is law enforcement foolishly listening to them?
This post by Greg Mitchell is scares the bejeezuz out of me and I really, really hope his speculation isn't true. He reports that on Reddit yesterday, amateur sleuths were combing pictures of the Boston Bombing and picking out possible "suspects." This led to a one of the targets coming forward to protest their innocence and having to go to the police to clear it all up. It was a high school athlete and his coach hanging out at the marathon. Reddit monitors eventually shut down the witchhunt and some contributors expressed regret.
It's not a pretty story, but it may not be the the worst of it:
Okay, end of story and not at all surprising, right? The problem is, from stories in news outlets and on cable TV (such as here), you might conclude that the two suspects that the feds had allegedly "IDed" were, indeed, these two men. The FBI showed some media folks photos and--can't be sure--but they may have been the same shots that Reddit posters obsessed over. The media descriptions match up, although missing the backwards baseball cap. The New York Post even put their photos on its front page today ("Bag Men"), referring to them as the FBI's suspects, and claiming the photo was emailed to reporters by the feds.
It's quite possible, as we know, that the media (and certainly the Post) could be wrong about this, and the feds have IDed two other men, but it at least raises the question: Did the online sleuths point the official probers in the wrong direction and that, actually, the whole official and media "ID" claim from yesterday is now totally bogus? Or is the FBI distributing photos of two other men?
This can be settled if a reputable news outlet comes forward now and says that they were sent photos by FBI--and yes, they featured those two men, or did not. One also wonders if FBI twice cancelled press conferences yesterday after they realized their "suspects" were bogus?
I fervently hope that the leaks to the press yesterday about finding and arresting a "suspect" was not based on some information gleaned from some "kerning experts" (long time blog readers will know what that means) on Reddit. I really would start to be frightened for our safety, especially considering the hundred of billions that are spent on law enforcement in this country.
But let's just say that it wouldn't be surprising if this is exactly what happened. The media didn't completely make up their clown show script yesterday. Yes, none of them used any common sense and asked whether it made sense that they could have so easily "identified" someone in the crowd and arrested them so quickly. But they got this information from law enforcement, not from Reddit.
As Mitchell says, and Atrios said yesterday, it's time for some people in the press to talk about this. We need to know if our very expensive policing agencies are using Reddit crowdsourcing to do their work for them. Everyone knows we need to cut some fat out of the budget and if this is how they do their work they obviously don't need all that money.