Redditors, Put Away Your Torches and Pitchforks

A Reddit thread dedicated to finding the at-large gunman from this morning’s Navy Yard shooting was blocked by the website Monday.

The subreddit, named “Welcome to Find Navy Yard Shooters,” was taken down after concerns arose that this sort of crowd-sourced investigation would lead to a virtual “witch hunt.” (Its description carried a rule that could go all sorts of wrong: “NO PERSONAL INFORMATION ABOUT LEADS UNLESS YOU’RE REALLY SURE.”)

The thread was positioned to break Reddit’s rule against posting personal information but also — and more importantly — could lead to vigilante persecution for those who would up being wrongly targeted or identified as perpetrators.

There’s some speculation the thread might have been a joke (based on the thread creator’s username “uglyredditors”) but it had dangerous potential for harm nonetheless. After all, a similar, and quite serious, Reddit thread was started in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings in an effort to find the perpetrators. Instead of finding the bombers, the thread had tragic consequences for Sunil Tripathi, a 22-year-old student at Brown University. Following claims that he had played a role in the tragedy, his body was subsequently found near Providence, R.I on April 25 — a little over a month after he’d been reported as missing.

But it’s not just community-driven social media that, in the haste to find blame for a tragedy, can misidentify: NBC and CBS both wrongly named a suspect earlier today on Twitter, and have since taken down the tweets.

Although one of the Navy Yard gunmen has been identified as 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, the unidentified second shooter is still at large.

(Images via Reddit)