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In Boston Manhunt, Online Detectives Flourish

"I'm seeing a lot of confusion and misinformation from news sites about where each bomb was detonated. After combing through the photos I've seen, I believe I've been able to make a solid case as to their exact location, where 'exact' in this case has an error margin of about 2 meters," user "gdhdshdhd" said.

Eventually, efforts and pictures posted in the subsection dubbed "r/findbostonbombers" and elsewhere on Reddit were picked up by news organizations with more readers, giving it greater exposure.

Another wave of detective work happened after the FBI released pictures and videos of the Tsarnaev brothers and as initial reports of a shooting at Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Thursday night. While listening to the police scanner, Reddit and Twitter users thought they had heard the name of a Brown University student missing since March, and one user posted a news story about his disappearance.

That assumption proved wrong -- and there was a cost.

The missing student's family, besieged with ugly comments, temporarily took down a Facebook page asking for help finding him. A few hours later, the online detectives said sorry -- in the words of one moderator, "Rather Confused," for "any part we may have had in relaying what has turned out to be faulty information." Several Reddit users who posted on r/findbostonbombers did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The president seemed to acknowledge this Friday night, speaking after the second suspect was captured. "In this age of instant reporting, tweets and blogs, there's a temptation to latch on to any bit of information, sometimes to jump to conclusions," Barack Obama said. "But when a tragedy like this happens, with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it's important we do this right."

The rush to informal sleuthing began Monday soon after the smoke cleared as pictures and videos from the marathon began to circulate on the Internet. Salah Eddin Barhoum, a 17-year-old track star who was a spectator at Monday's race, had his picture posted all over the Internet and ended up on the cover of the New York Post. He told The Associated Press on Thursday that he is now afraid to leave his house.

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