In 2013, it's difficult to imagine that someone could drop a homemade bomb amid scores of people at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. In broad daylight. Surely, someone had to have captured the guilty party on camera. Digital cameras, professional news reporters, civilians fooling around with Snapchat. Hell, there might be a photo on Instagram somewhere.
Working with this in mind, a subset of the Reddit community has set out in search of the Boston Marathon bomber. Folks have turned up in Reddit's /findbostonbombers to work together in hopes of bringing the guilty to justice. They're scouring news photographs and analyzing YouTube videos. They're analyzing the angle of backpack straps and speculating as to why some people are running one way, while others are running another.
Earlier this week, Gawker posted a brief breakdown of the major characters and "possible suspects" being considered and discussed in the forum. like "Blue Robe Guy" and "Brown Sweatshirt Guy." The Atlantic's Alexis C. Madrigal has since examined why this type of Internet vigilantism should be taken seriously, rather than scoffed at simply because it's happening online instead of on the streets of Boston.
One can make a defense of vigilantism in certain circumstances: say, "in the absence of foundations regulating social order." But this is not one of those cases. The FBI and other law enforcement officials are clearly looking for the bomber, and with access to far more information and technical resources. [The Atlantic]
Essentially, Madrigal posits that vigilantism is vigilantism is vigilantism and that Redditors shouldn't be trying to solve the case just because they've got WiFi connections, an earnest desire to see justice, and some spare time on their hands. As well-intentioned (and marginally effective) as the Redditors may be, they're probably not fully considering the consequences of their discussion. They should probably leave the investigation up to folks who aren't wearing hockey pads.