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Could Reddit, 4Chan find the Boston bombers using social media?

Internet messaging board site 4Chan is more well-known for depraved imagery and bad punctuation than acts of social good, but when its members collaborate on something it can be seriously powerful.

In the wake of the bombing attacks which rocked the Boston Marathon earlier this week, few leads as to who may have responsible have been made public. 4Chan however reckons it might have an idea.

After authorities released an image of one of the backpacks believed to be involved in the bombings, members of the online community got to work.

Boston Blast Bag

It scoured available images of the area around the finish line prior to the blast looking for people carrying similar-looking bags.

Boston Bag

Boston suspects

Boston suspects 2

There’s a full Imgur gallery detailing 4Chan’s investigations into the blast.

Reddit users meanwhile are also scouring through photos in a bid to find potential suspects. According to Mashable, the sub reddit r/FindBostonBombers has seen hundreds of Redditors joining together to identify suspicious subjects based on their appearance and backpacks.

Members of the subreddit have gone so far as to look at the meta-data from the photos to cast doubt on some suspects. One of these, dubbed “Blue robe guy” who is actually a red shirt and what appears to be a large blue fleece jacket (he also appears in the photos above) was a favourite suspect of the group until data revealed that the man was actually standing some distance from the site of the explosions and that the photo was taken three hours before, an unlikely amount of time for a backpack to be left unattended on the street.

“Sure the guy seems weird, but a little skepticism, please,” writes omgwtfitssteve. “You are pointing out a man from a photo nearly 3 HOURS before the fucking bomb went off. He’s probably waiting for a relative [sic].”

While the concept is interesting, it’s unclear whether authorities will place any credence in the amateur investigators efforts. As Mashable notes, some have already voiced criticism, pointing out that they could be engaging in trial by suspect and that elements of racism have already crept into the investigations.

The FBI meanwhile has asked anyone with images of the area around the blasts to submit them through official channels for professional analysis.

Author | Nur Bremmen: Staff reporter

Nur Bremmen: Staff reporter
Nur is an enigma with a passion for creating words. He recently entered a love affair with technology and chorizo sausages. He travels a lot -- you catch him, if you can, at a Silicon Cape event every now and again. More