Reacting to the Terror in Boston and The Good of the Crowd

Marathons make me cry. Watching human excellence and people striding (seemingly) effortlessly towards the finish line is inspiring. The real meat of the emotion however comes not from the people who are finishing sub 3 or even sub 4 hours times but with the people who are really striving and suffering over the last miles later in the day. It is watching these people that makes me give pause and appreciate not only the human spirit but more the compassion of large groups of people.

This past Monday I stood watching the Boston                                                                              marathon with my wScreen Shot 2013-04-18 at 3.33.20 PMife and baby on an amazing sunny day. After watching the trickle of elite runners grow to a steady flow of humanity made up of every age and body shape, the crowd along the final mile changed from cheering with admiration to cheering in support. You could feel it when a runner would slow and walk, the crowd would redouble its volume and focus its energy to drive the runner to keep going. This support of the crowd was punctuated by moments of individual kindness, one such moment occurred when a marathoner who looked to be in his 50s stopped and put his hands on his knees as he crossed Newbury street, a moment later a woman running in a wonder woman costume stopped spoke to the man took his hand and they continued running together.

These moments continued to occur as we walked up Hereford Street and down Boylston towards the finish line where a few short moments later the energy of a very small number of individuals amplified by sickness and hate would tear through the joy and compassion of thousands and–through them–a nation.

In the aftermath of this horrible attack I, like many, have been left with all of the confusion and emotion that one would expect to experience having been near such an event: Relief that my family was unharmed and anguish over those that I rubbed shoulders with that were not so lucky. Through this one feeling has grown–my faith and appreciation for the compassion of large groups of people. Not only in the cheering crowds and the runner in the wonder woman outfit in the sun and subsequently the courageous bystanders and first responders in the smoke but of the 1000′s of people who are part of the online crowd helping to find the perpetrators.

The police and FBI have relied on the power of the crowd to provide them with video and images of the event to turn up evidence and beyond that people all over the world are using Reddit as a center for putting up pictures and analyzing them to try and turn up information or details that could help in the investigation. While there are concerns about this data gathering and analysis turning into a witch hunt I think that it is a hugely powerful tool that the public can use to support rather than hinder the authorities investigation. After all this is not a new phenomenon; in its 23 years on air America’s Most Wanted used the power of the crowd to capture 1203 fugitives. What is happening on Reddit is just the next generation of citizens seeing something and saying something.

There has been a lot of sentiment about the goodness of the citizens of Boston and beyond since the bombing but I think one of the best things said was by Patton Oswalt, an actor, who posted his feelings to Facebook which at its core said that human goodness

“is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.
So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

It is for this reason that we here at Launcht will continue to create systems that support the wisdom, goodness and power of large groups of good people and help to foster the selfless goodness shown by the runner in the wonder woman outfit on that beautiful and horrible Monday morning.

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2 Responses to Reacting to the Terror in Boston and The Good of the Crowd

  1. As I posted this piece this morning I sit in my home in Somerville hearing about the unbelievable events of last night and this morning. I watch video of my neighborhood on the news and hear about the lives of these sick men i realize that living mere blocks from them we likely passed them on the street many times as we went about our lives. who can tell what darkness drove them but from all reports these men were truly a “tiny sliver of the species .. (that gets) … snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.” Bostons collective good (aside from the drivers) will persevere.

  2. With the events of this past Friday we have felt a huge sigh of collective relief here in Boston. The capture of the second bombing suspect has allowed everyone to look back on a very dark week in Boston’s history and take stock. In doing so it seems that the collective knowledge and expertize of the crowd did not impact the investigation in the way we had hoped and ended up coming to completely incorrect conclusions (see the article link at the bottom of this comment). However I still hold that the power of the crowd can be useful in these contexts. That being said it is necessary that the crowd works in support of law enforcement not parallel to it. What went wrong with this experiment with crowd investigation is that the crowd, rather than submitting their findings to the proper authorities to make reasoned conclusions, made a statement saying that they believed Sunil Tripathi, a missing student from Providence, RI was the suspect causing his family additional stress and heartache in what is already a heart rending situation.

    The crowd’s strengths lie in sourcing knowledge and information, not in reasoning and coming to conclusions which should be left to the proper authorities. So while the crowd “failed” in its attempt to assist in this investigation we saw another step taken in refining the crowdsourcing model in times of crisis. We all hope that this sort of event does not happen again, but if it does we can take the lessons learned from the Boston Bombing to further refine and tune the crowd’s response to these sorts of events and allow the global community to take effective action in the future.

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