New 5/19 Episode: DRAG.NET
Amateur sleuths armed with their own laptops, public information and a lot of spare time are working alone and in groups to crack criminal cases. On Reddit, on private chat sites, and elsewhere people pretend to be investigators and even, the police. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it goes very, very badly.
Take, for example, what one Serial fan did after listening to the series. The amateur investigator went to the web and began digging up personal information about the key witness, Jay Wilds, and then began casing Wilds’ home. Wilds responded the best way he could, by seeking a restraining order against the amateur sleuth.
Today on Life of the Law reporter Brit Hanson dives into the world of crowdsourced law enforcement. To hear “DRAG.NET” click here or on the photo above.
Reporter’s Notebook: Brit Hanson on DRAG.NET
Wondering how this week’s episode came together? We were. So we asked our new intern, Kirsten Jusewicz-Haidle, to talk to reporter Brit Hanson about the inspiration for Drag.net.
Kirsten: When and how did you come up with the idea for this piece?
Brit: Michael May, Life of the Law’s Managing Editor and I know each other and we were discussing that there was a general sense among the Life of the Law team that it was a really great time to explore a bit of the Reddit phenomenon and the amateur sleuth phenomenon in light of how popular Serial had recently become. He was saying, “You know, we’d really love to do an episode on this, but we don’t have a clear idea. We haven’t gotten a really clear pitch. So if you’re interested, think about it and see what you can come up with.”
I had been listening to Serial and I had heard about fans who had been crowdsourcing online and actually harassing Jay Wilds. So then I was like, “Hmmmm, I wonder what else there is to this.”
Kirsten: So was most of your research focused on Reddit and then you moved onto solo investigators?
Brit: Yeah, I did really start with Reddit and actually particularly with the Boston Marathon bombing and some other criminal cases that people have looked into online in a grouped crowdsourcing way. Reddit is just this rabbit hole of information and of people and conversations. I was pretty new to Reddit. I had been on a few times and seen a few different things and had been curious about how journalists in particular have used Reddit. But I didn’t really know what a beast it is, until I got in there and I got stuck in the rabbit hole probably for a couple of weeks. And I was like, “Oh my God. There’s so much here.”
I had also heard an interview on WBUR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook that focused on amateur sleuths who solve cold cases. Deborah Halber is a journalist who has really done a deep dive into the world of individual amateur sleuths, people like my main source, Ellen Leach, who are on their own in their basement or office spending a couple hours a day or several hours a week just searching databases. She talked a lot about that in her WBUR interview and I was like, “Wow, I’m really curious about this too. How does this fit into things?”
Kirsten: Is the community aspect of Reddit combined with the Boston Marathon Reddit situation what led you to also talk about Reddit’s attempt to self police more?
Brit: Yeah, that’s part of it and also when I spoke with Judy Tripathi – Sunil Tripathi’s mom, the young man who was misidentified as a suspect. That was something that was really important to her too, for all that went wrong and for all that was really awful that happened to that family and to Sunil. Up until that point Sunil had been missing for a month and the Tripathi family had used the web community, not necessarily Reddit, but other social media tools, to reach out for support in finding Sunil. Tripathi had had such a positive experience using crowdsourcing. When everything went so wrong on Reddit, it was a real jolt to the system and it was the complete opposite experience for her. When she talks about and reflects on what all of that was, it’s been really important to her to continue to focus on the ways the internet can support investigations and crowdsourcing in a healthy and positive way.
And another thing that really led me to look into that particular angle is there were a lot of Redditors that were super ashamed of what happened with the Boston Marathon bombing. They feel like their community really made a huge mistake and they want to do everything they can together to correct that and make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.
Kirsten: Was there anything else that you found really surprising or really interesting in your research for this piece?
Brit: Getting to know Ellen Leach, the amateur sleuth who works alone and who has solved eight cases on her own. In order to do what she does, you have to be brilliant and you have to be focused to be able to work with all the information and hold it in your brain. It’s interesting because she’s a stocker at Hobby-Lobby. She has a real working class job and works shift work and she’s a brilliant person. Where she comes from is where a lot of people who do what she does, come from. They’re folks who are working 9-5 jobs or minimum wage work who aren’t being challenged enough in that work. That’s something that Deborah Halber really focused on too, that a lot of people doing this aren’t just retired cops or retired detectives.
Announcing LIVE LAW – the podcast!
Seattle: We’re coming to you!
In just one week, Life of the Law’s producers, Advisory Board members and Scholars will meet in Seattle for the Law and Society Conference, an annual gathering of scholars interested in the role of law in everyday life.
Carroll Seron, a member of Life of the Law’s Advisory Panel of Scholars, is also President of the Society. We asked her to tell us about the Society and the Annual Meeting:
Carroll: The theme of this year’s meeting, “Law’s Promise and Law’s Pathos in the Global North and the Global South,” captures our longstanding commitment to explain law’s complex role in society as well as our growing interest in spreading our wings to look beyond U.S. borders. Today, the members of the Law & Society Association hail from the Global North and South and our annual meetings provide the opportunity and privilege to come together to share our research and to develop new insights through formal panels and informal conversations with our colleagues.
The 2015 LSA annual meeting will engage law’s promises and law’s pathos in domestic and transnational contexts, through plenaries addressing the roles of law in the war on terror, in climate change, in emancipation and protection of the world’s most vulnerable populations, and in law’s relationships with religions.
Thanks, Carroll. It’s going to be a great conference! Be sure to reserve your ticket(s) for Live Law 8 on Saturday night, May 30 at the Jewel Box Theater in downtown Seattle.
Meet the Team: our new intern, Kirsten!
We want to introduce our new intern, Kirsten Jusewicz-Haidle! She’s joining the team for the summer, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have her with us. We’ll let her take it from here:
Kirsten: Hello Life of the Law listeners! I’m the brand new intern, Kirsten. I’m an upstate New York native who moved to the Bay Area by way of Philadelphia for college. I was a biology major and currently work in a cancer genetics lab as a lab assistant. So how did I find my way to radio and Life of the Law? I’ve always loved radio and a couple years ago decided I wanted to make public radio as well as listening to it. I applied for a local radio apprenticeship program to learn some skills and haven’t looked back!
As for Life of the Law, someone (let’s just assume a friend) told me about it and I’ve been listening ever since! As soon as I heard the call for interns, I jumped right on my computer to apply and I’m super excited to be part of the team! Outside of work and interning I rock climb, very seriously discuss drought resistant gardens with my roommate, cook with my wife, am harassed by my cat, work on learning to book bind, and fight the never ending war against the DVR build up. On Sunday’s I host a show on a local Berkeley radio station on the history of science and science fiction ephemera. I also like puns and posing in my Ira Glass-es.
Stay tuned for LIVE LAW 2 with Tony Tyler on May 26!
“He said, ‘Boy, if you don’t want to be executed, you’re going to have to learn the law.'”
– Calvin Duncan