Online researchers scramble to identify Capitol raid participants


For years, police have been warning about the dangers of crowdsourced detective work — but on Thursday morning, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) of Washington, DC decided to do just that. In the wake of an unprecedented mob attack on the Capitol building, the MPD has released an open call for help identifying subjects. The department has circulated a digital booklet featuring 26 pages of faces from the attack, with a hotline number for anyone who can help identify them. The FBI has made a similar request, although neither agency has produced any arrests as a result of the photos.

The alarming nature of the attack, combined with the failure of Capitol Police to detain or process the intruders, has led to a nationwide digital manhunt. The event was captured in hundreds of photos, videos, and live streams, revealing the faces of dozens of perpetrators. Now, researchers are rushing to identify and prosecute those faces as a way to reassert control, drawing a wealth of tweets, live streams, and Instagram posts into an open-source almanac of everyone who can be reliably tied to the attack. It’s a more reliable version of the internet detective work that crashed and burned in earlier online communities — but this time, the footage is spread across hundreds of different sources, and the police are in on the job.

There’s so much available footage of the rally that simply collecting it has proven to be a challenge. Since the attack began, the open-source intelligence outlet Bellingcat has been collecting first-hand media from the attack, a process they opened up to volunteers as a Google sheet when the severe scale of the attack became clear. There are now more than 100 videos and a dozen full-length live streams in the spreadsheet, all ruthlessly monitored for duplicates and any identifiable faces.

“We aim to collect enough information to understand what happened,” says Bellingcat researcher Nick Waters, who is running the project. “A major part of that will be to examine who led this attack against the Capitol. We’ve already seen multiple notable members of the far-right who were part of it.”

A parallel project has formed on Reddit’s Data Hoarders forum, where a volunteer effort has begun scraping and archiving content at a massive scale. Launched last night, a thread shows 100 tweets and more than 12GB of data added to a collectively managed torrent…Read more>>