Just last week, during the famous Boston Marathon, terror attacks near the finish line catapulted law enforcement, the public, and the Internet into a manhunt for the perpetrators. There were uncoordinated efforts where law enforcement was proceeding as if there may be additional threats to the city and its residents- any information gained from citizens was treated equally as incoming “tips”.

Some lauded the efforts of the online communities Reddit and 4chan for their efforts to gather digital evidence-sourcing surveillance photos, crowd-sourced photos, and piecing together information gathered from numerous services including social media, location services, and other publicly available data. The FBI appealed to the public and these online community members answered the call. Unfortunately, there were two cases where digital analysis and forensic work led the online investigators to falsely accused suspects. In normal law enforcement investigations, there may be multiple suspects throughout the course of an investigation, with law enforcement procedures determining what actions are appropriate and which are invasive, rights violations, or outright misconduct. Unfortunately, online investigations do not have such procedures…

Remember Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell was treated by the FBI as a possible suspect in the 1996 bombing of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA. The media deemed him a “person of interest” and dug through his personal life looking for supporting facts to validate the loan bomber profile that the FBI based their suspicions on. Jewell’s life was interrupted when the FBI investigated his background and double-checked his established life, all while keeping him under 24 hour surveillance. He was never officially charged, and later fully exonerated by an extremely unique letter from the district attorney. However, the damage to his life was irreparable. He later won multiple libel lawsuits, obtained formal apologies to clear his name, and additionally won an undisclosed total award from media outlets.

Online outcome

The reminder about Richard Jewell’s case served as both a warning to the accusers as well as a potential foreshadowing based upon where the guilt lay last time. Some go as far as to point the finger at the professional media outlets, who in at least one case took the conclusions of the online community outside the conscious of the community and into the physical world’s front page news. There, it was free for all to see in a more public and seemingly more official source. There have been many apologies from the online communities, including an official one from the official Reddit blog reflecting on the entire fiasco, and some less apologetic stances from some official media outlets.

Avoiding the Fray

It is clear that mobile devices can be both a: -Hindrance: Mobile devices carry risks such as malware, scams, and privacy issues -Invaluable Outlet: Especially in an emergency, mobile devices promote communication through social media access, photos and videos, and location tracking Likewise, your own personal details can either hinder or help you, depending on how they are exposed. Location data, PII, or even opinions about politics or sports can formulate a profile about you that may open up your life more than you would ever want to…once it is pieced together. Social media posts, online forum postings, shared photos, and location check-ins can all work for or even against you in a situation of pure chance. Data that provides you an alibi is invaluable, but data that corroborates coincidental circumstances is a horrifying notion! Malware, Trojans, phishing scams, and even voluntary social postings present risks that can be much more real than people realize.

Bottom Line:

Protect your information and yourself by following best practices for managing your mobile device, your computer at home or work, and the information you share.


http://blog.reddit.com/2013/04/reflections-on-recent-boston-crisis.html http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/19/17826915-missing-brown-university-students-family-dragged-into-virally-fueled-false-accusation-in-boston http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2013/04/findbostonbombers_reddit_vs_the_media_in_search_for_boston_bombing_suspects.html http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/04/17/reddit_fingers_boston_bombing_suspect_blue_robe_guy_photo_shows_striped.html http://bostonherald.com/business/technology/technology_news/2013/04/reddit_postings_on_bombing_suspects_shameful http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/4chan-reddit-users-claim-identify-potential-suspects-boston-195842168.html