What began as a noble endeavor quickly spiralled into an online witch hunt as Reddit users desperately tried to pinpoint the suspects behind the Boston bombings last week.
In many ways, the platform helped, delivering pizzas to ailing victims in hospitals, providing therapy dogs and donating relief funds. But the community fell short, as General Manager Erik Martin wrote in a blog post Monday morning called "Reflections on the Recent Boston Crisis":
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. 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. 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.
Reddit draws major traffic, according to Google Analytics shared by Martin, putting it on par with some of the biggest news sites on the internet. As Martin explained, 272,000 users were on site at the time of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's capture Friday night, with 85,000 in /r/news alone. Those numbers made the now-private /r/findbostonbombers the first thread to beat Reddit's homepage in ratings besides Obama's Ask Me Anything.
Above all, those numbers proved that the way we're consuming and gathering news is rapidly changing. As BuzzFeed described in a recent op-ed, "The Media Doesn't Own the Story Anymore," the job of a news organization is no longer to find, vet and share new information but "to guide an audience that has already been exposed to much more."
In this sense, then, Martin was right to issue this closing plea: "We hope that Boston will also be where reddit learns to be sensitive of its own power."