Lessons from Crowdsourcing the Boston Bombing Investigation

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This article details how a public request by the FBI for photos and videos of the Boston bombing scene morphed into a digital witch hunt. The fears, prejudices and suspicions of the crowd resulted in a digital witch hunt with guilt and innocence were based on circumstantial evidence. Two methods of crowd-based information gathering emerged between the bombing and the capture of the last suspect. The first, crowdsourced intelligence gathering proved to a massive success, while the later, crowdsourced crime solving, was shown to be an abysmal failure. While the FBI only requested the former, both crowdsourced intelligence gathering and crime solving happened concurrently. Each of these methods offer important glimpses into major issues surrounding the future of law enforcement and crowdsourcing.


Wadhwa’s article provides a glimpse into the pitfalls of crowdsourced data for crime solving and is a must read for practitioners studying or implementing crowdsourcing initiatives. It also highlights the differences between crowdsourced crime solving and intelligence gathering, the later of which provided much more useful to law enforcement. Overall, the article shows that the more passive the use of crowdsourcing the more effective it can be for law enforcement.


Full article is available here>>

Tarun Wadhwa

April 2013