Reddit apologizes for ‘online witch hunts’
April 23, 2013 | 2:19 pm
Initially, Reddit didn’t seem to want to take responsibility for the user-generated content on its website—even as users acted as Internet sleuths, trying to find clues in the Boston Marathon bombing.
When Reddit’s Erik Martin (pictured at left) was asked at the paidContent Live event last week if the point of the site was to “bless the chaos” and take responsibility for what people post, Martin said:
“Yeah, we are sort of groundkeepers. We are facilitating the platform. We facilitate an action there to let people create spaces … I think in this case a lot of people just want to do something.”
But a week later, Martin has apologized on the Reddit blog for what happened on Reddit when innocent people were fingered as potential suspects. Those innocents included Sunil Tripathi, an Ivy League student who has been missing.
“However, though started with noble intentions, some of the activity on reddit fueled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties,” Martin wrote on the Reddit blog. “The reddit staff and the millions of people on reddit around the world deeply regret that this happened. We have apologized privately to the family of missing college student Sunil Tripathi, as have various users and moderators. We want to take this opportunity to apologize publicly for the pain they have had to endure.”
Seemingly, Martin didn’t want to take responsibility for the actions of its users as it allowed (using Martin’s analogy from earlier) the garden to grow into something where it became nearly uncontrollable.
As someone who followed the activities closely during the chase last week, from the shooting of the MIT police officer to the capture of the second suspect, the amount of misinformation being put out there on social media was discouraging.
When Tripathi’s name came out early Friday morning, social media members gave each other a digital pat on the back and announced that Reddit members had solved the case. But in fact, it only led to more confusion and likely brought even more anguish to a suffering family.
It’s good to see Martin backtrack on his response from the paidContent event, because the crush of information and misinformation is greater than it has ever been.
However, Reddit wasn’t the only entity that fingered innocent people. The New York Post did it in a big way by splashing the picture of a high school student on the front page of its paper with the headline “Bag Men.”
The New York Post was wrong and the teen was scared to leave his home.
At least Reddit apologized for its mistakes and intends to learn from it. The New York Post didn’t retract or apologize, but instead tried to cover its mistakes with new reporting.
“This crisis has reminded all of us of the fragility of people’s lives and the importance of our communities, online as well as offline,” Martin also wrote on his blog. “These communities and lives are now interconnected in an unprecedented way. Especially when the stakes are high we must strive to show good judgement and solidarity. … 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.”
Now, he gets it.