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...
  • Business Highlights

    ___ Job market for college grads better but still weak The job market for college graduates is brightening a bit. The Labor Department said Tuesday that the unemployment rate for 2013 college graduates ...

  • 'Dancing' Recap: Stiff Competition Shakes Up Leaderboard
    'Dancing' Recap: Stiff Competition Shakes Up Leaderboard

    A beloved member of the "Dancing with the Stars" cast was sent home on Monday night's show.

  • Jet stowaway undetected for hours before departure
    Jet stowaway undetected for hours before departure

    HONOLULU (AP) — A law enforcement official says surveillance video from San Jose International Airport shows the boy who survived a flight to Hawaii in a plane's wheel well was on the airfield seven hours before the jet departed.

  • Ancient Assassin Flies Found in Amber
    Ancient Assassin Flies Found in Amber

    An extinct species of assassin fly that lived during the age of the dinosaurs has been discovered inside a translucent tomb of amber. B. bruckschi joins more than 7,500 species of assassin flies that are alive today.

  • Study in Europe eclipses notion home in the sun equals happiness

    Sun seekers who leave northern Europe for warmer climes are marginally less happy than those left behind, a study found. A sample of more than 300 migrants from Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Britain who resettled in Mediterranean countries found that they were slightly less satisfied with life than a much larger sample of 56,000 people living in northern countries. The sun lovers scored 7.3 out of a possible 10 on average on a "happiness" scale while the stay-at-homes came in at an average of 7.5 percent, according to the study released on Wednesday by Dr David Bartram, a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at England's University of Leicester. "The key finding from the analysis is that people from northern Europe who migrated to southern Europe are less happy than the stayers in northern Europe," Bartram said.

  • Breastfeeding may protect against heart disease: study

    People who had low birth weights and those breastfed for short periods may be more likely to develop chronic inflammation linked to heart disease in adults, a study said Wednesday. Researchers in the United States found a "significant" association in almost 7,000 people between birth weight or duration of breastfeeding and higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of inflammation, in blood samples of young adults. The protein is produced by the liver and levels increase when a person suffers from inflammation. "Each pound of additional birth weight predicted a CRP concentration that was five percent lower," said a statement from Northwestern University, whose experts took part in the study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

  • Whoa there: NYC carriage horse ban is stalled
    Whoa there: NYC carriage horse ban is stalled

    NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio is pulling back the reins on his plans to quickly get rid of New York City's horse-drawn carriage industry, stung by a recent outpouring of support for the colorful coaches that have clip-clopped their way through Central Park for more than 150 years.

  • Gorgeous iPhone 6 concept imagines a sleek device with exciting new features
    Gorgeous iPhone 6 concept imagines a sleek device with exciting new features

    Although we’re starting to get a steady stream of actual iPhone 6 leaks, it’s still fun to go into the land of make believe and imagine the fantasy iPhone 6 of our dreams. The team at ConceptsiPhone has come out with yet another video showing off one of its gorgeous visions for what the iPhone 6 might look like and this time it’s given its fantasy smartphone a super-thin 7.2-millimeter frame, a 16-megapixel UHD camera and a heart rate monitor that’s located on the upper-right hand side of the device. While none of the features listed above have been officially confirmed for the iPhone 6 just yet, they’re definitely within the realm of possibility. After all, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 already

Follow Yahoo! News