Case in Point: Crowdsourced News Tests Limits in Boston Bombings

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (2015), crowdsourcing can be defined as the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community. Crowdsourcing has been viewed as going hand in hand with social media, both existing because of the power of connections. In a fast-moving manhunt like the one for the two suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombings, the two terms collided in an attempt to serve justice. A real time stream of cellphone images and Twitter updates helped in complementing and informing mainstream news accounts. While these updates from civilians can be extremely helpful and form a sense of a unified community, they can also be disastrous.

Crowdsourced efforts during the bombing led to numerous false accusations, posting innocent bystanders as people of interest. Specifically, photographs of two innocent high school students were published on the front page of the New York Post labeling them as people of interest (Palmer, 2013). In addition, Reddit users focused their attention on a missing Brown University student as a potential suspect, who ended up having no involvement in the bombings. Eventually the FBI communicated their frustrations with the efforts, expressing that other photographs should not be deemed legitimate (Palmer, 2013).

While crowdsourced efforts can lead to negative outcomes and tarnish reputations, the efforts must be considered if in the end the good can outweigh the bad. In the wake of the bombings, it was an iPhone photo that provided the clearest image of one of the suspects (Akagi & Linning, 2013). When used effectively, crowdsourcing can engage audiences and gather information. Security services cannot be everywhere at once and occasionally obtaining information from the public can have its benefits.

In a world of real-time social media platforms, it is difficult to stop false claims. And with the opportunity to quickly spread these claims through retweets and sharing, information can be leaked to thousands of people in just seconds. Although false information can potentially tarnish lives, I believe that if the good outweighs the bad it is a risk that should be taken. There are a lot of evils out there, especially with recent terrorist acts from groups like ISIS. Therefore, if we have the technologies we might as well use platforms like social media and crowdsourcing to our benefit.


Akagi, K., & Linning, S. (2013). Crowdsourcing done right: Crowdsourced journalism showed its limits during the Boston bombing, but that doesn’t mean it lacks value. Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved from

Merriam-Webster. (2015). Definition of crowdsourcing. Retrieved from

Palmer, R. (2013, April 19). Reddit’s false Boston bombing suspect IDs show limits of crowdsourcing. International Business Times. Retrieved from

Plaisance, P. L. (2014). Media ethics: Key principles for responsible practice (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

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