Reddit shuts down community seeking Navy Yard shooter

Posted at 3:21 PM, Sep 17, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-17 15:21:33-04

By Doug Gross


(CNN) — Months after apologizing for overeager users fingering innocent people as potential suspects in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Reddit on Monday shut down a section devoted to chasing down the Washington Navy Yard shooter.

Clicking on the page, or “subreddit” as specialized communities are called on the site, “FindNavyYardShooters” now leads to an image of a closed door wrapped in yellow “Caution” tape and a message saying it has been banned.

“We banned it because it violated site rules by encouraging the posting of personal information,” Reddit general manager Erik Martin said in a prepared statement. “We don’t allow the posting of personal information under any circumstances.”

The subreddit was created when authorities were still searching for suspects and it was unclear whether there was one shooter or multiple shooters. But Reddit shut it down almost immediately.

Police have since named Aaron Alexis, 34, as the lone gunman. He was killed Monday in a shootout with security at the naval yard.

Another subreddit, “Active Shooter Washington Navy Yard,” continued with Reddit’s blessing. Users posted links to news sources, information from law enforcement and other official information in an effort to keep people informed in the shooting’s aftermath.

In April, redditors banded together to try to piece together what happened in the Boston bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260 others. What resulted was the sharing of photos of “suspects” that had been taken near the marathon’s finish line.

Among other theories, users speculated that Sunil Tripathi, a Brown University student who had been missing since March, could be a possible suspect in the bombings. Tripathi’s family temporarily took down a Facebook page asking for help finding him after they were bombarded by ugly comments.

Tripathi’s body was found later that month in Rhode Island’s Providence River. No foul play was suspected, police said, although an official cause of death has still not been reported.

Amid the confusion over the Boston bombings, other Reddit users focused on two young men with heavy-looking bags, one of whom wore a blue track suit. The New York Post even splashed a photo of the two marathon spectators on its front page with the headline, “Bag Men: Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon.”

The guy in the track suit turned out to be a 17-year-old suburban Boston track star who told The Associated Press he was afraid to leave his house because of the scrutiny.

“We hoped that the crowdsourced search for new information would not spark exactly this type of witch hunt,” Reddit’s Martin said at the time. “We were wrong.”

Founded in 2005, Reddit has become a hugely popular site divided into more than 5,400 communities that have essentially revamped the early Web’s bulletin boards, with users posting information, links and thoughts rapidly in real time. It has almost 70 million monthly users.

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