Boston Bombing 4Chan Pictures: Internet Vigilantism in the Wake of Terror


The website 4chan has taken some of the detective work into the Boston bombings into their own hands. 4chan has hosted a series of photos on photo sharing website The stream of photos was shared just ten hours ago and already has over 608,000 views. Reddit has created a subreddit entitled “FindBostonBombers” which has a similar analysis of photos from the bombing. This forces us to ask the obvious question as to whether or not this is a good thing? 

The 4chan photo stream makes no attempt to obscure the faces of individuals they are “investigating.” That’s a serious problem as the images cause intense suspicion on these individuals. These people, to the best of our knowledge, are not being questioned or considered as suspects by anyone but 4chan. As such, I've obscured their faces and have intentionally not linked to the 4chan stream. 


The page largely focuses on these two individuals. Some of the images depict how a pressure cooker could fit inside both of the "suspects" backpacks. Scrolling through the images feels odd. You almost find yourself believing that one of these people could be the person responsible for the bombing as the same images flash by you over and over again. There's a clear air of suspicion, if not guilt, associated with these individuals. Is that right? No. This is where internet vigilantism takes a step in the wrong direction. The website Reddit seems to at least understand this much, as they have posted these guidelines in the FindBostonBombers subreddit:

The problem with casting guilt upon people who we don't know are guilty should be obvious. These individuals could have their lives unintentionally destroyed by a group of over zealous internet detective amateurs. Another subreddit has been created devoted to clearing the name of these individuals from the 4chan page. How have they done this? By examining photos of the individuals after the blast, all of these individuals still have possession of their backpacks. 

Imagine how many individuals had on black back packs, or heavy bags during this event? These 4chan members are examining a singular moment in time, of which they have no other information on. That's incredibly problematic. The only image here that is credible is the one of the backpack provided by the FBI. That is really all we know. Ascribing guilty to anyone with a backpack is not only dangerous, but fool hearty and makes the jobs of investigators that much more difficult. 

The 4chan page especially is a little too reminiscent of a witch hunt, grasping at straws, and making connections where none may be. It's not that I cannot understand their desire to help, but there might be some things best left up to the professionals.