Put more simply, they were asking the Internet to help them find the suspects.
And the Internet answered: within a few hours of the FBI's release of these images, the Reddit hive-mind produced a much clearer image of the suspected bomber.
Then, as if that weren't enough, Reddit placed the suspected bomber in the same frame as 8 year-old victim Martin Richard, with a bag that looked an awful lot like the one the FBI was trying to identify.
So basically, in this grisly game of Clue, Reddit did the FBI's job for them: all in one spot, killer, murder weapon, victim, and the scene of the crime.
Now here's the kicker — the FBI is among the top groups lobbying the government and private web companies for more surveillance over the internet, ie. CISPA, a bill which just passed the House, may pass the Senate, and may cross Obama's desk.
As we've covered before, CISPA " a uthorizes federal agencies to conduct warrantless searches of information they obtain from e-mail and Internet providers," as explained by Declan McCullough of CNET.
Part of the reason for CISPA is that massive companies are hemorrhaging proprietary information, through the likes of hackers conducting cyber espionage. Some of these hackers are state-sanctioned, others are downright criminal.
It goes without mentioning that Redditors, and the Internet cesspool dwellers on 4Chan, hackers of all color, despise this piece of legislation.
Why? Because CISPA would unmask the Internet. Without anonymity, without hacker handles, without online alter egos, there is no image of Martin Richard next to the bomb and the bomber.
Granted, Reddit spurred a few false leads rumors about missing Brown student Sunil Tripathi and various people carrying bags at the Marathon (which was also one of the suspect identifiers investigators were looking for anyway), but the consensus seems to be that Reddit helped more than it hurt.
Because they can operate freely, without recourse, Anonymous and Reddit and 4Chan can crowdsource information gathering. Stripping them of their online identities though — essentially killing the Internet hive mind — would remove the barrier under which these folks operate.
They've proven that they can operate for ill, but their operations for good match the ill by tenfold — would they really have worked to restore the internet to a Cairo in upheaval if they knew their own governments could readily, personally identify them?
Even amongst the trolls, Internet dwellers as a single body, the hive-mind, has an acute sense of justice and injustice.
Gabriella Coleman said " geeks are the new guardians of our civil liberties."
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