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Reddit General Manager Erik Martin Apologises For Boston Bombings 'Witch Hunt'

23/04/2013 10:48 BST | Updated 23/06/2013 10:12 BST
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The general manager of Reddit has apologised for the online community's controversial attempt to crowdsource the search for perpetrators of the Boston bombings.

Three people were killed and more than 200 injured after two bombs exploded near to the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

After a police investigation one suspect was killed during a shootout with police, while another has been charged while in hospital for injuries sustained during the manhunt.

But before the police located the men, the users of the online message board Reddit had attempted to beat them to it.

By pooling hundreds of images of the blast and its aftermath, users on the subReddit 'FindBostonBombers' attempted to list and locate various 'suspicious' persons and then forward that information to the authorities.

By its very nature the search was controversial, but as the misinformation began to proliferate and at least one man was wrongly outed as a suspect - by both Reddit and the New York Post newspaper, among others - it attracted a huge amount of criticism.

Now Erik Martin, general manager of Reddit, has apologised for what happened and said the community will work to reinforce standards in similar situations.

Writing on the site he said:

"Though started with noble intentions, some of the activity on reddit fuelled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiralled into very negative consequences for innocent parties. The reddit staff and the millions of people on reddit around the world deeply regret that this happened."

While he cited many other examples of Reddit in action that helped during the crisis - including boards set up to help people stay informed, donate to relief efforts and even deliver free pizza to law enforcement, he said that the site had apologised privately to the family of the still-missing man wrongly outed as the bomber.

"We want to take this opportunity to apologize publicly for the pain they have had to endure. We hope that this painful event will be channeled into something positive and the increased awareness will lead to Sunil's quick and safe return home. We encourage everyone to join and show your support to the Tripathi family and their search."

Martin added that:

"A few years ago, reddit enacted a policy to not allow personal information on the site. This was because “let’s find out who this is” events frequently result in witch hunts, often incorrectly identifying innocent suspects and disrupting or ruining their lives.

"We hoped that the crowdsourced search for new information would not spark exactly this type of witch hunt. We were wrong. 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."

Martin told The Verge in a follow-up interview that the community would now work to reinforce its rules regarding personal information, and hoped change would come from the 'bottom up'.