Today a series of fatal shootings at the Washington Navy Yard left at least 12 dead, including one suspected gunmen, according to D.C. police. In response to the shootings, several Redditors started discussion threads under the newly created (and quickly deleted) “/findnavyyardshooters” subreddit. The only rule was “NO PERSONAL INFORMATION ABOUT LEADS UNLESS YOU’RE REALLY SURE,” a nod to a similarly named /findbostonbombers subreddit, created during the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombings in April and since made private by administrators.
While it’s not clear if the Navy Yards subreddit itself was meant to be satirical, several of its threads, like this one, which had the title, “Warning: suspect is extremely armed and dangerous,” appeared to poke fun at a subset of the Reddit community that has become known for misguided vigilantism that some have called the modern-day witch-hunt.
Many of the /findbostonbombers subreddit’s contributors took it upon themselves to conduct a very public, rumor-fueled terrorism investigation that incorrectly identified a missing, deceased Brown University student as the bomber. In the aftermath of the Redditors’ incorrect identification, Reddit publicly apologized for the subreddit’s activities that “fueled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties.” Considering the community’s pessimistic reaction to r/findnavyyardshooters and its ultimate banning, has Reddit learned its lesson?