Jamie Butow

Monday, Apr 22 2013 05:13 PM

JAMIE BUTOW: Armchair crime scene investigators abound after bombings

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    The FBI released this photo of Suspect number 1 and Suspect number 2 in the Boston Marathon bombings.

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By Jamie Butow

The manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect didn't just take place in the streets of Boston with law enforcement teams. It took place online as well.

Regular folks became amateur sleuths as photos and videos were posted online from the marathon finish line. Twitter, Facebook and forums such as Reddit lit up in the aftermath of the dual explosions that killed three people and injured hundreds.

Armchair detectives listened to police scanners online and curated information about Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Chechen brothers suspected of masterminding these attacks.

But this is real life, not an episode of "CSI."

I get it. I've read every Nancy Drew mystery and Alex Cross novel. There's something intoxicating about solving the mystery.

But Nancy and Alex have never had social media to deal with, specifically Reddit.

By its own definition, Reddit is a source for what's new and popular on the web. Users provide all the content and vote on what's good and what's not.

Last week, as amateur sleuths started posting photos and observations, it was just a matter of time before someone was wrongly accused.

Salah Eddin Barhoum, a 17-year-old high school track star, was a spectator at the finish line. His picture was posted all over the Internet and ended up on the cover of the New York Post.

On Thursday he told major media outlets that he was afraid to leave his house.

And then there's the case of Sunil Tripathi, a missing Brown University student who was falsely identified as a possible suspect.

Reddit General Manager Erik Martin used the company's blog Monday morning to publicly apologize for the site's role in fueling an "online witch hunt" for Tripathi.

While Martin was apologetic for the misinformation on Tripathi, he contends that Reddit is and remains a place for information, discussion, coping and goodwill. He notes that users did everything from donating to relief funds to having pizzas delivered to area police and hospitals.

All of this information was in a subreddit named /FindBostonBombers.

An unfortunate name.

And as is known to happen online, the community turned on the one who created it.

The "redditor" who created the forum was chastised and threatened. How dare he create this space! What a horrible person for pointing fingers at all these people! Yes, because it was all his fault. At least that's how some people saw it.

After the forum was closed by Reddit administrators, the Redditor -- known online as oops777 -- created a thread in the popular I Am A forum (http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/). This is a place where interesting people can come and answer questions. President Barack Obama hosted one last year, leading off with the familiar, "Hi, I'm Barack Obama, President of the United States. Ask me anything."

Here are excerpts from Monday's IAmA thread:

I_love_pearljam: "What was the purpose of the sub Reddit?"

oops777 "To consolidate the already existing posts floating around /r/news and /r/boston."

***

drpuddinpops: "I really hope you get sued for your stupidity. Who would think its a good idea to play around with other people's lives. No one asked you to do law enforcements job, you should have left it to them."

***

ohlewis: "Not your fault you like to do things on the internet. Perhaps others should not take it so seriously. Maybe that should start with yourself. So the question: was it worth it?

oops777: "Not even slightly."

ohlewis: "So be it. You tried to do good, and it didn't work out the way you wanted it to. Now some dude's life is a mess because he fits our profile of what a terrorist would be. Shame on all of us, honestly."

***

Detractors called the crowdsourcing vigilantism. It's not. But it's not exactly helping law enforcement. Is it citizen journalism? Probably not.

So it's something new, a hybrid of sorts. It's a new way to gather and share information. And it's something we'll undoubtedly see again.

Levan Institute classes

It looks like both Social Media 101 and Social Media for Small Businesses and Organizations will be offered again in the fall.

Both classes meet at Bakersfield College once a week for four weeks and cost a measly $25 total. Exact dates still to come, and registration will be sometime in June, so stay tuned.

Social TV

The NBA playoff chase dominated Social TV rankings last week with games taking seven of the top 10 spots. At No. 3 was the MTV show "Awkward." "WWE Monday Night Raw" came in at No. 8, and CNN's coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings came in at No. 8.

A couple of thoughts on this: First, I'm not surprised that sports is dominating. But don't forget we don't know who is tweeting. While I'm sure fans are talking about their favorite teams online, I expect that a solid majority of the chatter is coming from NBA and team employees promoting the games, and from sportscasters and networks such as ESPN.

The fact that CNN broke into the ranks with news coverage speaks volumes about who people were turing to for news last week. There more than 179,000 social check-ins that mentioned the network.

On the other hand, there were 650,000 mentioning the MTV show about an unpopular and awkward 15-year-old girl.

So ... yeah.

Jamie Butow is the community engagement coordinator for The Bakersfield.com Network. Email her at JButow@bakersfield.com. Follow her at Facebook.com/JamieButow2, and on Twitter@JamieButow.

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