Reddit has thus far kept its promise to ban amateur manhunts. The site has today banned a community forum, known as a subreddit, which attempted to crowdsource the search for the gunman who opened fire at the Washington Naval Yard on Monday. The gunman has recently been identified, without Reddit’s help, as Aaron Alexis.
During the Boston bombing last spring, a community of Redditers wrongly identified a missing Brown University student, Sunil Tripathi, as a suspect. Even though there was little evidence to Tripathi’s guilt, the popularity of Reddit’s vigilante theory managed to smear Tripathi’s name across major media outlets. Reddit General Manager Erik Martin eventually issued an apology and decree that future subreddits would be banned.
“We hoped that the crowdsourced search for new information would not spark exactly this type of witch-hunt. We were wrong,” said Erik Martin, at the time. “The search for the bombers bore less resemblance to the types of vindictive Internet witch hunts our no-personal-information rule was originally written for, but the outcome was no different.”
In an email to TechCrunch, Martin explained that the Reddit on the Naval Yard shooting was banned because:
#1 It was a troll subreddit.
#2 We banned it because it violated site rules by encouraging the posting of personal information. “NO PERSONAL INFORMATION ABOUT LEADS UNLESS YOU’RE REALLY SURE” (from sidebar). We don’t allow the posting of personal information under any circumstances.
Martin also redirected us to a forum that is collecting information on safety risks and missing-persons information related to the shooting. In the past, Reddit has become a surprisingly good real-time information source during crises. It appears Reddit wants to redirect the community’s energy toward more productive ends, harnessing its collective power for good.