Should criminal investigations be crowdsourced?

Updated 9:11 AM EDT, Tue April 23, 2013

Story highlights

Reddit received some criticism for its handling of the Boston Marathon bomber case

Some Reddit users, poring over images, fingered innocent people as potential suspects

Reddit general manager Erik Martin says he regrets "this type of witch hunt"

Cybersecurity expert Doug White: The media are only as good as their contributors.

(CNN) —  

Reddit general manager Erik Martin has had a busy few days.

His popular website, which thrives on real-time message boards and contributions by users on a variety of topics, received record traffic – as well as pointed criticism – for its treatment of the Boston Marathon bomber case.

In particular, critics took Reddit to task for what they perceived as its overeager determination to help authorities identify suspects in the many images of the scene being shared online. One group of redditors, as the site’s users are known, speculated that Sunil Tripathi, a Brown University student who has been missing since last month, could be a possible suspect. Tripathi’s family temporarily took down a Facebook page asking for help finding him after they were bombarded by ugly comments.

Other Reddit users focused on two young men with heavy-looking bags, one of whom wore a blue track suit. The New York Post even splashed a photo of the two marathon spectators on its front page with the headline, “Bag Men: Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon.” The guy in the track suit turned out to be a 17-year-old suburban Boston track star who told The Associated Press he was afraid to leave his house because of the scrutiny.

Reaction was quick and scathing. The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal wrote a column called “Hey Reddit, Enough Boston Bombing Vigilantism,” and followed it up with a story on how the names of two innocent people got repeated in a viral loop on social media. Alex Pareene addressed the issue in a similar Salon column, “The Internet’s shameful false ID.”

The moderator of a subreddit, or comment thread titled findbostonbombers, which had been set up to crowdsource the identities of the bombers, apologized.