When Search and Social Media Can Help Solve Crime (Boston Marathon Explosion)

UPDATE! FBI Primary Suspects posted online. 4/18/2013 9:36PM PST

UPDATE! Suspect apprehended, MIT Cop Shot. 4/19/2013 1:23:28AM PST

Crowdsourcing is a practice that gathers together services, ideas or content from a large group of people. These days they are typically done online where it is easy to gather together a large group of people using social media networks.

Solving crime is no different than any other crowdsourcing task. Everyone may not be trained in crime investigations, but the sheer amount of people that can contribute might just get the work done faster.

Keen Observation & Deductive Reasoning

Sherlock HolmesJust looking at how Sherlock Holmes solved crime, it was mainly based on deductive reasoning, the ability to put a number of facts together, connecting the dots and being a keen observer of all factors. Sherlock Holmes is aware of all possible outcomes with strong knowledge of physical sciences, human behavior, statistics, anatomy, the law, and many more fields of study. This is so interesting that it has inspired many book readers and movie makers to come up with similar stories like The Mentalist TV series.

Unfortunately Sherlock Holmes is a fictitious character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was a physician and writer who lived from 1859 to 1930. It is very rare to find a single person with such a high amount of knowledge and such diverse skillsets like Sherlock Holmes. If only we had such people, they could seemingly help solve crime in a very easy manner. In reality, there are people with different talents, and strengths, and weaknesses that work together to solve cases. Different people also have different observational habits than others and can see things differently.

Analysis of Photos and Video Coverage of the Boston Marathon Explosions

It can take many hours, days or even weeks to find each and every minute detail in a photo or video from a large number of content contributed online by many  people. But when this task is crowdsourced, this can help get the task done faster.

With the online communities of 4Chan, an image sharing community and Reddit, a social bookmarking community, a group of people have been contributing and further promoting this on Facebook, helping solve the Boston Marathon Explosion crime. The main images were posted on imgur, an image sharing site. Below are some of the photos, the complete photos are found here.

Remnant of explosive at Boston Marathon compared to bags of people at the event

Boston Marathon photo showing possible suspect with unusual behavior and similar bag where the explosive was placed.

Possible suspects of Boston Marathon bombing with similar bags where the explosive was placed.

Photo showing people with the similar bags where the bomb was placed and not paying attention the race.

Even if these images look compelling, of course nothing is really conclusive yet at this point in time, but as more people help out, the easier and faster this crime can be solved.

UPDATE! FBI Primary Suspects posted online. April 18, 2013 9:36PM PST

FBI Primary Suspects Posted Online

More information can be found on CNN’s website.

UPDATE! Suspect apprehended, MIT Cop Shot. April 19, 2013 1:23AM PST

The Boston Globe reports one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings has been apprehended, but the other suspect remains on the loose in Watertown after a firefight with police. More here.


Social Media has Already Helped Solve Crime

Photo of a car part posted online by Matt Hardigree to help solve crime.
Photo of a car part posted online by Matt Hardigree to help solve crime.

Last year, a woman named Betty Wheeler was killed by a hit-and-run accident and the only evidence was a small car piece. The photo of the car piece was posted on Jalopnik by Matt Hardigree and the car was able to be identified by a deductive process from a number of comments.  This was added to the evidence used by the Waynesboro Police Department in Virginia to help solve the crime.

Philadelphia Police Department’s official Pinterest boards give the online community help to solve crimes by uploading photos and video footages.
Philadelphia Police Department’s official Pinterest boards give the online community help to solve crimes by uploading photos and video footages.

According to Corporal Frank Domizio of the Philadelphia Police Department, approximately 200 videos shared online and promoted in social media sits led to 112 arrests as of December 2012.


Tweets-by-Beats page of the Seattle Police Department
Tweets-by-Beats page of the Seattle Police Department

The Seattle Police Department has already recognized the power of social media that they created their own Twitter feeds that online users can use to ping the police.

In a survey by LexisNexis Risk Solutions, they found that 4 out of 5 people in law enforcement agencies use various social media platforms to assist investigations. 67% honestly believe social media does help solve crime and 85% of the time search warrants using social media to establish probably cause hold up in trial courts when challenged.

Going a step further, some people have dedicated their lives into using social media to uncover truths such as Scott Rickard who distributes most of his investigations on Facebook and Twitter to reach a wider audience.

It’s Online! It must be true?!?!

But always remember… just because it’s online, it does not necessarily mean it’s true. When looking at online evidence, use your best deductive reasoning, don’t believe everything right away, investigate yourself and listen to what others are saying.

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