In a world with Twitter and Reddit, accuracy is often thrown by the way-side in favor of being the first one to the scoop.
People do not wait for the 11 p.m. news to find out what is going on in the world. Nor do they wait until the paper arrives in the morning. If gunshots ring out at 2:30 a.m., a story that wouldn't make the news until that evening or the newspaper the following day now is a rat-race to see which outlet can get their story up first as we now live in a world with a 24-hour news cycle.
So when an event as tragic and confusing as the Boston Marathon bombing occurs, one has to take a step back and decide whether it is better to be right, or to be first. In the wake of the attack, the internet was flooded with theories about who carried this out.
The New York Times takes the reader through a comprehensive look at what happened in the initial wake of the attack. Quickly, a grainy photograph began circulating its way around Reddit, with one Reddit user comparing a photo from missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi's Facebook page, one that was set up to try and find Tripathi as he had gone missing on March 16. Quickly, misinformation about Tripathi spread, with one Twitter user by the name of Greg Hughes tweeting, “Suspect 1: Mike Mulugeta Suspect 2: Sunil Tripathi.”
From there, the story spread like wildfire, with another Twitter user saying that they picked up Tripathi's name on a Boston police scanner, with that information being re-tweeted as fast as people's internet connection could carry it. As we all now know, Tripathi was not suspect 2, but rather, a promising young man whose name had been unfairly tarnished by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people based on rumors spread through Reddit and Twitter.
Hughes tweeted that night, "Journalism students take note: Tonight, the best reporting was crowd-sourced, digital and done by bystanders. #Watertown." However, it was only a few hours later that NBC's Pete Williams said that the suspects were in fact of Chechnyan descent and were not the aforementioned suspects.
So herein lies the catch. Yes, crowd-sourcing information can be incredibly helpful (as seen here). However, in a case as touchy as this, while the best intentions were probably in mind by these "journalists" and "detectives," they ended up dragging a missing and then later found dead man's name through the mud.
According to the Pew Institute, 99% of information found on blogs comes from "legacy outlets" (i.e. the New York Times, Washington Post, et al). This staggering figure shows that while everyone now has a voice on the internet, very little original reporting is done by these new Internet journalists. I myself fall victim to this as well. I would not be a writer for the New York Times right now; however, the impetus for this story comes from the Times in depth look at whether Reddit should be blamed for this "smear."
At the end of the day, Reddit and the people who make up the Reddit community can only be blamed so much for this. While they uncovered this person's name, it was Perez Hilton who tweeted his name to six million people. False flags are thrown out all the time on the internet, sometimes with bad intentions, but many times, it is concerned citizens like you and me who just want to catch the bad guy so to speak. So before we all rush to condemn Reddit for screwing up the story, we must remember that there is a reason that journalists find multiple sources before running a story.
So the next time an event happens and Reddit is on the case, people should realize that people looking at a grainy photograph on the internet and someone re-tweeting that source is not finding two sources, but rather, solid evidence needs to be found before innocent people are found guilty in the court of public opinion.