Just Explain It: Crowdsourcing To Solve Crimes

You may have heard of crowdsourcing when it comes to raising money, like the popular website Kickstarter allows. But at its core, crowdsourcing is getting a lot of people to help solve a single problem.

After the attack at the Boston Marathon, law enforcement asked the public for help to find the perpetrators. As usual, authorities asked people to report if they saw anything suspicious and they asked for help identifying the suspects in the surveillance tapes that the FBI released.

But in what’s becoming a new trend, officials also asked the public for photos and video. The response was overwhelming. Within days, local police and federal agents received thousands of images and many terabytes of digital data captured on smartphones and other mobile devices

So, how well has using “the crowd” to solve crimes worked? And what are the downsides of the public getting involved? That's the subject of today's Just Explain It.

The Boston Marathon bombing may be a high-profile case where we’re seeing these methods used by police, but it’s not the first time crowdsourcing has been used to catch suspects.

[Related: Mother Of Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects Found Deeper Spirituality]

In 2011, after the Vancouver Canucks’ loss in the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, rioters there torched cars and looted businesses causing $4.5 million in damages. City officials asked the public for video and photos to I-D the rioters. Facebook pages and other websites sprang up specifically to collect images, in an effort to identify those involved. The group effort by police and regular citizens lead to over 200 people being charged.  

Earlier this month, the New York City Police Department released footage of a woman being attacked in a Brooklyn subway station in March. Commenters on the websites Gawker and New York magazine's Daily Intelligencer identified the alleged attacker as Aidan Folan from pictures on his Facebook page. The day after the video was posted, police arrested Folan and charged him with robbery and assault.

While crowdsourcing investigations may give law enforcement more evidence and leads, it's not always perfect. Some of the alleged Vancouver rioters who were identified on websites were harassed and threatened by members of the public.

And after the Boston bombing, users in a forum on social news website Reddit exchanged photos and information to find the perpetrators of the attack. Reddit users identified possible suspects, and their names and photos were publicized there and on other websites. Unfortunately, those people singled-out as suspicious were innocent. One person falsely implicated was missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi, whose body was found the week after the bombing. Reddit publicly apologized for the “online witch hunts” and “dangerous speculation,” which ”spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties.”

[Related: Body of Missing Student Falsely Implicated in Boston Marathon Bombings Is Found

So, did you learn something? What do you think about the use of crowdsourcing by police to solve crimes? What about your fellow citizens conducting their own online investigations? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below, or on Twitter using the hashtag #JustExplainItNews.

Loading...
  • California Chrome poised for World Cup glory

    By Martin Dokoupil DUBAI (Reuters) - California Chrome’s owners believe they have a perfect draw in the outside nine gate to land the 20th running of the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race on Saturday. Nine is a perfect position for our horse,” trainer Art Sherman said of the favorite, the 2014 American Horse of the Year after landing Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes victories. Tomorrow we’ll gallop and take him to the paddock,” Alan Sherman, assistant to his father, told Reuters after Chrome’s light track work on Thursday.  “He has not missed an oat, he’s eaten fantastic so we just hope we’ll get a good trip and put on a good show,” he said. After the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, California Chrome finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes, failing in his bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

  • Pressel joins Lee atop LPGA leaderboard
    Pressel joins Lee atop LPGA leaderboard

    Morgan Pressel fired a record-equalling eight-under par 64 to join Lee Mi-Rim atop the leaderboard after two rounds of the LPGA Kia Classic. America's Pressel had eight birdies with no bogeys in a round that matched the course record at Aviara Golf Club. Her 10-under par total of 134 tied her for the halfway lead with South Korea's overnight leader Lee, who signed for a second-round 69 that included six birdies and three bogeys. They were one stroke in front of Americans Alison Lee, who climbed up the leaderboard with a 66, and Cristie Kerr, who carded a 68.

  • Bieber set for Mayweather's ring walk
    Bieber set for Mayweather's ring walk

    Pop music star Justin Bieber says he'll be at Floyd Mayweather's side when the unbeaten American walks to the ring on May 2 to take on Manny Pacquiao in their welterweight world title super-fight. Bieber, a friend of Mayweather who has accompanied the fighter to the ring at other fights, told celebrity website TMZ.com that he would be part of the boxer's entourage for the long anticipated bout with Filipino ring icon Pacquiao in Las Vegas. Bieber, a onetime teenage heart-throb, has in recent years found himself in trouble for run-ins with authority ranging in seriousness from egg-throwing vandalism to alleged assault on a photographer in Argentina and a limo driver in Canada. Rapper Ludacris told interviewer DJ Envy on the radio show "The Breakfast Club" that Mayweather, whose unblemished 47-0 record has helped him become the highest-paid sportsman in the world, is training as never before.

Follow Yahoo! News