In the wake of the Navy Yard shooting in Washington that has left 13 dead, including the gunman, Reddit has stepped up to prevent another Boston Marathon-style amateur sleuthing expedition by banning a subreddit devoted to finding any remaining Navy Yard shooters.
There was some confusion in the hours immediately following the shooting as police initially thought there had been three gunmen and two may have still been on the loose. Police have since confirmed that Aaron Alexis was the sole gunman.
The subreddit ban remains in effect, however. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this year, many took to Reddit and other online media platforms to try their hand at identifying the bombers. In the always-on age of smartphones, selfies, and social media, many theorized that it would have been virtually impossible for the Boston Marathon bombers to avoid detection (which, indeed, proved to be true).
As one might imagine, however, the search for the bombers turned into an online witch hunt that falsely identified several people as suspects. The New York Post put an image of two misidentified “suspects” on its front page.
Reddit identified missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi as the bomber. Essentially, if your skin was brownish and you were seen with a bag at the Boston Marathon, you were a suspect.
Reddit general manager Erik Martin later apologized to Tripathi’s family after the student turned up dead near Providence, Rhode Island.
Reddit didn’t take any chances with the Navy Yard shooting, instituting a ban immediately on the subreddit r/FindNavyYardShooters.
“We banned it because it violated site rules by encouraging the posting of personal information,” said Erik Martin in a statement to the Washington Post. “We do not allow the posting of personal information under any circumstances."
Whether or not the ban is necessary now that police have confirmed that the shooting was done by a single gunman is up for debate, but it’s nice to know that Reddit is taking steps to prevent another witch hunt.
The Navy Yard shooter has been identified as Aaron Alexis, an employee of a company called The Experts, which is a subcontractor for HP. The 34-year-old Naval Reservist joined the Navy in 2007, but was discharged after a “pattern of misbehavior” that included shooting out the back tires of another man’s car before firing a gunshot into the air, and firing a gunshot into the apartment of an upstairs neighbor because she was making too much noise.
Alexis died in a shootout with police, after which he was found with an AR-15 assault rifle, shotgun, and a semi-automatic pistol.