A couple of weeks ago, the small town of Charlottesville, VA was rocked with the tragic news of the disappearance of Hannah Graham, a college student from the University of Virginia.
Graham disappeared during an evening out and hasn't been heard from in over a week. The last text that was supposedly sent by her phone indicated she was lost, and local law enforcement officers have been frantically searching for answers. However, the police aren't the only ones who are trying to bring Hannah home safely.
A Collective Effort
Thousands of people have congregated across social media to pore over pictures, Twitter feeds and screenshots of Graham, or other tidbits that might somehow be related to what happened.
Things have only intensified over the past couple of days, especially since a man who was originally just labeled as a "person of interest" is now considered a suspect, and there's a warrant out for his arrest.
It remains to be seen whether one of these well-intentioned Internet sleuths will ultimately be successful in spotting some sort of information that could provide a big break in the case. However, let's look at some other recent examples of how social media served as a platform for willing and dedicated Internet detectives.
A Mistake Made in the Boston Bombing Case
Last spring, the world was outraged over bombings that occurred during the Boston Marathon, an event that traditionally attracts people from all over the world and is a major economic boost for the city.
As could be expected, many people who were there captured footage during the chaos. As individuals analyzed the materials and collaborated across social media, the efforts came to an abrupt and eventually awkward halt because word spread across social media about a suspect's name.
The name gained momentum and the assumption was that because the name had been mentioned several times in massive forums like Reddit, it had to be legitimate. However, as it turned out, the named suspect was not the right man. That case of mistaken identity even caused Reddit users to post sincerely worded apologies to the wrongly-accused man and his family members.
The Public Succeeds in Identifying the Culprits in a Homophobic Assault Case
On September 11 of this year, a homophobic hate crime/robbery took place in a part of Philadelphia that's close to a gay-friendly neighborhood. Quickly, surveillance footage popped up on social media feeds, and once again, the public began working hard to identify the members of the group that took part in the crime.
Eventually, they were successful. Apparently, one of the people who participated in the attack had a social media profile full of gay slurs and also listed a "check-in" at the restaurant that was only feet away from where the attack happened. Not surprisingly, once those details were uncovered, the offending individual was exposed on Twitter.
Woman Caught Trying to Sell Her Kids via a Facebook Message
Many frazzled parents have probably jokingly wished they could sell off their kids for some extra cash, but last year, one woman took it to the extreme, because she wasn't offering her youngsters as a joke.
Originally, Misty VanHorn hoped to sell her two-year-old for $1,000, but decided to increase the price to $4,000 after deciding she'd throw in her 10-month-old too as some sort of bizarre package deal.
Incredibly, she tried to carry out the whole transaction via Facebook. After VanHorn sent a message to a prospective buyer, one of her acquaintances notified authorities, and the woman was arrested. All of this happened because VanHorn reportedly needed some quick bucks to bail her boyfriend out of jail.
Let's hope no one ever hires her for babysitting without running a background check in the future.
Now that you know details about several ways Internet sleuths have pitched in to try to solve crimes, it should be easier to make up your own mind about whether those kinds of actions are beneficial or just too bold.
Image by Mia Domenico