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Reddit apologizes for 'online witch hunts,' asks community to be 'sensitive of its own power'

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Erik martin reddit
Erik martin reddit

Reddit General Manager Erik Martin has apologized for the Reddit community's reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings, after amateur investigators frustrated the public and law enforcement with a flood of misinformation about the perpetrators of the attacks.

"Though started with noble intentions," Martin writes, "some of the activity on Reddit fueled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties." In particular, Martin calls out Sunil Triphathi, who was pegged as a suspect by amateur online detectives on 4chan and Reddit — information that spread quickly online. "We have apologized privately to the family of missing college student Sunil Triphathi, as have various users and moderators," Martin writes. "We want to take this opportunity to apologize publicly for the pain they have had to endure."

"We want to take this opportunity to apologize publicly for the pain they have had to endure."

Reddit users quickly attempted to backtrack and avoid scrutiny after identifying the wrong suspects, pleading for the media to stop using information from the social sharing network. Several efforts to repair the damage done and to show goodwill were undertaken in the wake of the dangerous vigilantism, including donations to relief funds, pizza deliveries to local law enforcement and medical personnel, and boarding for those stranded in the city. But despite generous acts and genuine contrition, Martin hopes the community will prevent the same serious missteps in the future.

"We hope that Boston will be where Reddit learns to be sensitive of its own power."

"This crisis has reminded us of the fragility of people's lives and the importance of our communities, online as well as offline," Martin writes. "After this week, which showed the best and worst of Reddit's potential, we hope that Boston will also be where Reddit learns to be sensitive of its own power." Much of that power is wielded by the site's volunteer moderators, who control individual "subreddits." One of those subreddits, /r/findbostonbombers, was focused solely on uncovering those responsible for the attacks.

In a phone conversation regarding the blog post, Martin told The Verge that similar subreddits will not be restricted in the future, but that the site's administrators will pay more attention to enforcing the site's small set of core rules — namely, the one which prohibits users from posting personal information about others. "We will certainly be more proactive in our enforcement of that no personal information policy in these situations," Martin said. But, as usual, Reddit's leaders hope that change will come from the bottom-up. "The conversation has been and is already taking place on Reddit," Martin said. "We want that to continue and for people to realize what's at stake."