The first episode of Wisdom of the Crowd premiered on October 1st and I had to check it out. Being a lover of crime procedurals and someone who works to bring content to the masses through the use of online platforms, I thought this show would be right up my alley.
The main concept of the show is that a Steve Jobs-like character (Jeffrey Tanner played by Jeremy Piven) has decided to take crowdsourcing to the next level by creating an app, called SOPHIE, where people around the world can share and evaluate evidence to help solve crimes—more specifically to help solve his own daughter Mia’s murder. Everyone has a phone these days, and everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves, so why not create a platform where people can connect with each other and help solve murders without leaving the comfort of their homes?
As soon as the app goes live people start flooding in with evidence they think will be helpful. By opening yourself to allow the world to participate, you are then tasked with scouring through the information to make sure the information being posted is not leading you down the wrong path. As the show states, 90% of the information being submitted is useless, but 10% of it could be something vital. Only the 10% gets posted to the public. But even if information is vital, is it safe to post everything to the masses?
An instance of this happens when a video of man leaving Mia’s apartment around the time of her death is posted on the app. In this video a car can be seen with the license plate clearly visible. Because the video was posted on the app, app users were able to figure out who the owner of the car was. The driver was tracked down and attacked by a few vigilante app users who believed this person was the killer. As it turned out the driver of the car wasn’t Mia’s killer but an Uber-like driver who was called to pick someone up in the same location of Mia’s murder.
I thought this was an important moment for the show. It demonstrated a major flaw of the app in that you need to be careful what you share with the general public. There are people out there who feel they have the right to be judge, jury, and executioner—especially when they are protected by anonymity. This reminded me of when people on social media wrongly accused Sunil Tripathi of being one of the Boston marathon bombers because of his resemblance to one of the suspects in the photos the FBI posted. It was a massive online witch hunt with people invading Sunil’s Facebook page and leaving terrible comments. Reporters were bombarding his family with questions and nonstop phone calls. But in the end, as we all know, Sunil was not one of the culprits.
The reason I felt this show needed to be discussed is because social media is becoming a natural part of life. It would be a mistake not to incorporate social media and online platforms such as Twitter into classrooms. Having people around the world come together and work towards a common goal is a great thing, but you need to mindful of the dangers of social media. Even the best people in the world can turn downright ugly when hiding behind anonymity. That’s why it’s important that if you do choose to incorporate social media, you set clear rules and boundaries. Crowdsourcing can be really good, but if not handled delicately, it can turn bad very quickly.