(RNN) - Amateur sleuths on Reddit, the popular social news site, are trying to find the suspects behind the Boston bombing by putting together clues from photos and videos taken at the time of the bombing. Whether they are helping or hurting remains to be seen, as too much amateur speculation could misidentify innocent people as suspects.
Reddit has an entire section, known as a subreddit, devoted to finding the Boston bomber. Users of the site have posted hundreds of links to images, videos, and text that speculates about who caused the deadly bombing.
A typical thread consists of a picture with a poster's theory as to how somebody in the photo might be a suspect, with several other commenters adding their thoughts and opinions. Any photos with people wearing or carrying backpacks have caught the attention of Redditors, as users of the site are known. They have identified several so-called "suspects," including a white man in a blue sweater carrying a black backpack and two young men of indeterminate race wearing black backpacks.
Users have submitted photos that analyze the backpacks being held by the men and compare them to an FBI photo of the backpack that was used in one of the bombings.
And one user who claimed to have a similar backpack to the one allegedly used in the bombing posted comparison pictures that showed how his bag appeared to he heavy.
Comments about the photos are full of speculation, amateur psychology, and personal biases. Regarding the man in the blue sweater who has become known as "Blue Robe Guy," one redditor said, "He looks overtly happy in one of the photos. Not exactly the expression I would expect from this sort of criminal."
"If he's a psychopath that is doing this for pleasure, why would it be hard to imagine him being happy?" another responded.
Although the input of potentially millions of people poring over photos and putting together clues could prove useful, it also has the elements of a high-tech witch hunt. And there are people who see this as a dangerous activity that could lead to false accusations.
Gawker noted that several people singled out as suspects in the photographs were dark-skinned and were being scrutinized for little more than having dark skin and being near the bomb blast while wearing a backpack.
But the redditors visiting the bomb investigation subreddit are aware of the dangers of creating false suspects. The top-rated post warned other users that they could be creating the next Richard Jewell, the man falsely accused of setting off a bomb during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but who had actually saved several lives.
"This sub[reddit] is dedicated to pointing to random people in a crowd photograph and declaring your suspicions. You're starting the trial-by-public aspect," the poster warned, adding: "Who knows? You may get lucky and your pet suspect turns out to be the bomber. But I've seen at least 10 people singled out, and not all of you are correct."
"Jewell was put through hell because of crowd mentality rushing to justice," another poster said. "The last thing we need now is a vigilante mob thinking it got the right guy and convincing law enforcement it can stop investigating."
There has already been one false suspect named as a result of online speculation, but it wasn't the fault of Reddit. Jay Thomas, a radio talk show host, said on his program Monday that a young man named Eric Twardzik was arrested in connection with the bombing.
Twardzik was not arrested. He had only taken a picture of somebody being arrested and posted it on Twitter
Twardzik wrote an open letter to Thomas admonishing the talk show host.
Although internet sleuthing could be harmful, it must be noted that the identity of Lu Lingzi, the third victim of the bombing that was named, was found out by users of Reddit and Twitter the day before the name was officially released by Boston University.
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