Boston Bombing Investigation With Crowdsourcing A Failure?

Patrick Frye - Author

Aug. 23 2017, Updated 1:31 a.m. ET

The Boston bombing investigation has led some to say that crowdsourcing is a failure.

The FBI actually set up a website where citizens could upload potential evidence, but by then the public had already beat them to the punch. The Boston bombing investigation method being called a crowdsourcing failure was the method Reddit and 4Chan employed in an attempt to gather as many Boston Marathon 2013 photos as possible onto a single public area.

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People who took videos or photos at the Boston Marathon were asked to post them at the r/findbostonbombers Reddit Boston Marathon section. But crowdsourcing the bomb suspect images lead to some false positives like Salah Barhoum, with some people calling it a “witch hunt.”

But crowdsourcing itself is not how the Boston bombing investigation got ugly. The FBI only initially used crowdsourcing to gather evidence from the public, not to involve themselves in the actual Boston bombing investigation. So crowdsourcing the evidence gathering was a success, while crowdsourcing the Boston bombing investigation only led to the crowd’s fears, prejudices, and suspicions becoming a prevailing factor. This is something the FBI never asked for.

Crowdsourcing an investigation is probably only legitimate when the criminal perpetrators are known for certain. The TV show America’s Most Wanted worked on this principle. By spreading word of the identity of the criminal to the crowd police are able to track down criminals hiding in the nation. But in the case of the Boston bombing investigation crowdsourcing experiment the crucial difference was that the identity of the criminals were not known.

Do you think the Boston bombing investigation is good reason to never use crowdsourcing in this manner again? Or do you feel there’s another approach that would work well?


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