Social media has changed everything, including… FBI investigations?!

Remember in those old mystery police thrillers, where they’d show the cop in a room surrounded by computers, and he’d be pulling an all-nighter with a cup of coffee by his side as he scanned computer footage of a crime scene over and over again?

He’d look dejected, having looked at the same images repeatedly, waiting for some type of clue to arise. But he’d only be able to access these images from this high-class computer room, where technology was so outdated that he had to click 13 buttons just get the screen to zoom in. And a square would appear over the spot where he wants to zoom, so he had to press 12 more buttons to enhance the quality the image.

Well that was old-school detective sleuth-work. Back when computers were still a luxury item.

Today, one no longer needs a badge to conduct such an investigation. Nor do they need high level security clearance. Instead, all you need is your laptop.

Since Monday’s Boston bombings, the Internet has been abuzz with people trying to track down the terrorists. And notice how I said “people” and not “police.” Yes, police — most notably the FBI — are doing that too, but so is the rest of the world. And that’s because with today’s world of open information, we actually have very similar access to similar footage that the FBI does.

That’s both a scary and kinda awesome thought.

Users on sites like Reddit and 4chan (which I still don’t even know exactly what that is) have been posting images of people who were wearing backpacks around the scene of the crime. Naturally, most eyes fall right onto the Middle Eastern people who were carrying backpacks. It’s just the way we think in the post 9-11 world.

And every day the public creates new suspects. Yesterday, it was these guys.

Middle Eastern? Check?

Determined mannerism? Check?

Backpacks? Check (it’s not noticeable here but in other images the two guys were clearly wearing backpacks.)

In fact, the New York Post even bought into the hoopla.

While these poor guys’ photos were surfacing all over the Internet, some Reddit users actually located one of their Facebook accounts, and posted a link to it on the site. The worst part? The kid’s profile was actually public. I went over to his page when this happened, and people from all over the world were commenting on his wall. It was crazy.

In fact, I knew the kid was going to privatize his account, so I took some screenshots of what I was witnessing since I figured it would not be around much longer. This was around midnight last night.

salah

Click on it for a bigger image. And within minutes, comments on that status he posted were coming in droves. Some funny ones too, I must admit.

salah2

And sure enough, as of this morning, that Facebook post — and the subsequent comments — were all gone. And multiple news outlets also confirmed that this person is not an actual person of interest.

Nice job, New York Post.

It’s just insane to me that this happens now. The Internet can actually label you as a terrorist, and just like that, you become one. You don’t get the benefit of the doubt.

And today, there are new suspects.

And those are actually from the FBI website!

Not to bombard you with more photos, but here is another picture posted by a Reddit user of the kid that’s in the top right.

suspect

Look: far middle-left. White hat. Notice the missing backpack.

Heck, if you go to Reddit right at this moment (9:02 p.m.), the top three listings are all related to finding suspects in the images. It’s just nuts. On one hand, you have to admire the determination of people to bring these terrorists to justice. Between Reddit, 4chan and Anonymous, you have to think that some people out there actually being useful.

But on the other side of the spectrum, it just feels so wrong that this is actually the case. That anybody can be blacklisted by anybody. The FBI has actual evidence, video, eyewitness accounts, forensics, and other clues at their disposal.

The public has images. That in itself is not enough thoroughly investigate by any means. And yet, that’s not stopping the Internet world from doing everything in their power to uncover the truth. Call it persistence, call it a witch hunt. But whatever it is — it’s the world we live in now.

Although, when the alternative is websites that post nothing but adorable pictures of cats, I guess I shouldn’t complain.

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