Reddit and 4chan Working to ID Boston Bomber Using Available Photos


We reported yesterday that the FBI has issued an open call for photographs and videos that may help provide clues in the Boston Marathon bombing case. Since that time, investigators have begun circulating photos of two “possible suspects” spotted in images of the scene, suggesting that analyzing crowdsourced images has indeed been useful in this case.

It’s not just government law enforcement that is attempting to use public photographs to identify the attacker, though: the large online communities Reddit and 4chan have also begun carrying out their own crowdsourced photo analysis.

Over on Reddit, members have set up a new subreddit titled “/r/findbostonbombers” to collect and closely examine publicly available photographs. 4chan users have also uploaded photos showing their investigative work to an Imgur gallery titled “4chan ThinkTank”.

Here are a selection of the “investigation” photos that have been circulating (we’ve blurred faces to protect privacy):







These vigilante photo analyzers have gotten a good deal of press over the past couple of days. The New Yorker calls it the “Internet Mystery-Solving Machine.” However, what many media outlets are highlighting is the fact that these communities could point their fingers at innocent bystanders at the scene who have nothing to do with the attack, tainting their good name and spreading photos of them across the Internet.

Alexis C. Madrigal of The Atlantic writes that this crowdsourced photo investigation needs to stop, saying, “Digital dualism can blind us to the real and serious problems of online vigilantism. There’s no excusing it with reference to bits or tubes: It is plain, old vigilantism with no place in our society.”

One of the Reddit community members named rroach shares the same concern, and posted a message titled “Does anyone remember Richard Jewell?Richard Jewell was a security guard who was misidentified by the media as a suspect in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing. rroach writes,

Who knows? You may get lucky and your pet suspect turns out to be the bomber. But I’ve seen at least 10 people singled out, and not all of you are correct. You should be very very careful about picking and choosing who you think might have killed three people and wounded many more, based on where they were standing and if they were carrying a backpack or not.

This type of digital crowdsource analysis may simply be the way things will be from here on out. As Matt Buchanan of The New Yorker writes, “Thanks to the ubiquity of inexpensive, powerful digital-imaging devices creating unimaginable amounts of data, and the emergence of highly populated, highly distributed Internet communities like Reddit and 4chan, it will happen this way every single time.”

  • Rob S

    this will end badly.

  • Mansgame

    Put your pitch forks away until the professionals do their job.


    This pisses me off. A PHOTO NEWS SITE censoring photos. What is wrong with you guys?! These photos are public! they have been published on Reddit, 4Chan, CNN, MSNBC, and countless other news sites and social media sites.

    You are a PHOTOGRAPHY site. You’re supposed condone the freedoms and rights of the photographer and then post censored photos…

    I’m so confused.

  • ryan180becker

    I think their point is to talk about how the crowd-sourcing is happening and how they are analyzing photos. PetaPixel I am sure does not want to be responsible for implicating any wrong person, thus making them a part of the very problem pointed out in the article. It isn’t that they don’t condone or support the rights of photographers, it’s that they want to protect the “innocent until proven guilty.”

    This article isn’t about pointing out who DID the bombing, this is about the efforts of those who are trying to find the culprits. It would be worse had they uncensored the photos, thus being partially responsible if the individuals in those photos are falsely accused.

  • Mike

    Reddit and 4chan people tend to overestimate their own credibility and usefulness.

  • harumph

    The pair in the last photo have already been found on facebook, and they are understandably freaking out that they are being Richard Jewelled. One of them is a high school track runner. The New York Post already ran the uncensored photo on their front page falsely claiming that they were the two main suspects.

    This sort of thing is going to ruin people’s lives.

  • tttulio

    As if you could trust the Police. 2 of the “suspects” are wearing special forces issue apparel.

  • Scott M.

    The guy in the bright blue track jacket. He said his coach was the other fellow with the backpack and white hat. Yes, I remember Richard Jewel. He was a hero that probably saved lives but had his life ruined for years. At least he got a hefty settlement from the local newspaper.

  • Marko Oja

    I find this whole idea very disturbing: in essence this is as Mansgame suggested, a torches-and-pitchforks scenario where people with no legal responsibilities arbitrarily point the blame at whoever they choose. What happens if they come up with the wrong person and release their picture?

    Leave the investigations to those who are legally responsible for their decisions, and if you have images from the scene, please submit them to the authorities. Playing the “but I have the copyright for these” -game is nearly always appropriate, but there should be exceptions in cases like these. Make your money elsewhere.

  • Matt

    I agree, but I can see where they are coming from. We all want the people responsible to be found and put on trial. And, we would all like to be part of the effort to find them. But, identifying people with black backpacks as terrorists is not acceptable. As with this type of tragedy many are way to emotional to let the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ process take its course. Let the pro’s do their jobs, they are extreamly motivated right now. We can of course help them by sending info if we have any.

  • Burnin Biomass

    Interesting that the reason most people know about this is because of the media.

    Yes they were speculating (not getting posses together), and that can get very bad. But the same article in The Atlantic that tears them a new one for doing it, supplies the link to them! That gives them more coverage and people going to the page.

    Accusing people like the Reddit readers are doing can be very dangerous and bad! Posting articles with links to the behavior only fans the flames. I wouldn’t have heard of this if it were not in the press (I did read about this before I saw it here).

  • Rob S

    This is EXACTLY why investigations should be left to the professionals:

    The New Your Post (Owned by Rupert Murdoch/News Corp/Fox) ran a front page picture of the “Bag Men”

    From Salon –

    The New York Post’s front page today is given over to a photo of two purported suspects in the bombings at the Boston Marathon.

    One problem: They’re not actually the suspects.

    That’s what CBS’s John Miller stated this morning. CBS News was one of the outlets, unlike CNN, the AP and Fox News, that did not report an arrest during yesterday’s flurry of misinformation; the Post, meanwhile, has been pilloried for its reporting in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, including its claim that 12 had died.

    And the Post’s article, coming as it does after a provocative front page that calls the pair “Bag Men” (common slang for a criminal), surprisingly comes short of actually calling the two men suspects. Those readers who choose to parse the Post’s reporting on a crowded subway car will find that the men are in photos (one of a crowd scene) being purportedly circulated by authorities, but “two potential suspects” caught on video who’ve been fingered may or may not even be the same people.

    “It was not immediately clear if the men in the law-enforcement photos are the same men in the surveillance videos.”

    The Post’s story, then, is that two young and dark-skinned men are in some of the photos being distributed by the FBI (the Post does not provide any context as to whether any more photos are being circulated), and that two people who are or are not the same people are “potential suspects.” That’s before it moves on to aggregation of what is known about the bombings so far (including the correct number of fatalities) and listing recent evacuations.

    As Deadspin and Gawker are reporting this morning, one of the two whose faces are still on the Post’s website is a local high-school track runner who’s been protesting his innocence on a Facebook post on which he’s changed his name.

    Never mind that the Post doesnt even try to base things on facts. Amateur “investigators” enable stupidity like this. Leave it to the PROS!

  • Brian Huff

    Those top few pics sure do look like the bookbags match up with the remnants found. Who are these guys! Find them!

  • Sherry Omalley

    why would CRAFT private security in full gear be there?

  • Rob S

    And of course now the REAL investigators have published the REAL suspects and they are not any of the above.

  • harumph

    So the FBI just released photos of two suspects, and not surprisingly, it’s none of the people pictured above.

  • Jun-Kai Teoh

    …and voila, all their suspects turned out to be inaccurate.

  • Jay

    Wow, these guys found more suspects than the FBI :)

  • bob cooley

    Because 4chan is known for their ethical and helpful behavior… really?

  • Duke Shin

    4/18/13 NEVAR FORGET

  • Duke Shin

    I’m kidding, of course. But imagine how it would have turned out if this was /b/ instead.

  • Mike O’Hara

    Aaaaaaaand this article is dated. He’s already dead.

  • Dave

    Aaaaaand it turns out he is in none of the above images. Aaaaaand Reddit actually identified by name a person that is not involved. Aaaaaaand Reddit claims the suspects were of Indian descent when in fact they are Chechens.

  • Dave

    Just not the right ones.

  • Dave

    Your prediction was spot on.

  • Me

    Stick to your day jobs…

  • Diky Galau

    not the real flag, sorry not the real bag.
    FBI WARNING !!!!!!