Crowd Sourcing: Should we be concerned?

Following the horror of the Boston Marathon bombings I read a particularly iteresting news article. The article detailed how internet users decided it would be a good and noble idea to begin their own investigations using social media/netowrking sites. Reddit  apparently being the main one, but Facebook and Twitter played their part of course. The author of the article called it ‘crowd-sourced inestigation’.

Using these sites the general public began to hunt for clues and evidence to ascertain the identity of the bomber(s). A just and noble idea you might think? People pulling together and working autonomously towards a common goal? Taking their civic duty seriously? All potentially acceptable responses. Now here’s the rub, they got it wrong.

These optic-fibre Federales, these Columbos of the information superhighways, armed with their laptops, Macs, tablets and smartphones messed up.

Instead of passng any leads they found straight to the authorities, these internet sleuths accused the wrong person. More than once. Anyone and everyone became a potential suspect. Pictures appeared online with accusing captions. Suddenly something as simple as not watching the race became a good enough reason fo be accused of planting and detonating bombs.

One case in particular is that of 22 year old Sunil Tripathi, who has been missing since March. Mr. Tripathis picture was flung across the world wide web amid a torrent of conjecture and speculation. Anyone else think this is wrong? One Reddit user did, calling it a “disaster”, stating it had done “more harm than good” and finishing with “let’s never do this again”.

There were some defenders of this ‘crowd-sourced investigation’ though. A 22 year old man in Virginia was praised by Reddit users for the speed at which he made information public. Information sourced from television screens and police scanners.

The media isn’t innocent either. Setting upon any tidbits of informatiom and reporting them directly to the world. I was chastised for tattling as a child. But that’s the monster that is the media. If you don’t feed it, it won’t regurgitate rubbish.

We have law enforcement for a reason. This kind of mob behaviour can’t lead us anywhere good, or can it? Does it have a place? They say Rome was ruled by the mob and look what happened there. How long before vigilantism starts, and people start hunting for criminals in packs? It might sound far fetched now, but when Gene Rodenberry created Star Trek back in the Sixties mobile phones were unheard of. Confused? You can always call Scottie and ask him to beam you up.

There are potential benefits to the idea of crowd-sourcing though. Medicine. More specifically diagnosis. A US-based company has launched a web tool they’re calling ‘CrowdMed’, which will use the ‘”collective knowledge of the public to solve rare medical mysteries”. Obviously this can be very useful, if used correctly.

In the end though, it was a good old fashioned phonecall from a concerned and outstandingly brave member of the public that helped authorites capture Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Nothing else.

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