The wrongful conviction rate in America is appalling, and until recently it went largely unnoticed by the general public. Thanks to Serial, it has come to the forefront of our national consciousness. Who killed Hae Min Lee? Has Adnan Syed been wrongfully incarcerated? And most conspiratorially — what are we not being told? How many other cases are there out there, just like this one? There is already an amateur army on Reddit dedicated to solving the mystery.
Inspired by Anerica’s captivation with Serial, the campaign for CrowdSolve has emerged on Indiegogo. Its aim is to reduce the wrongful conviction and open case rate by enlisting on this militia of sleuths. Everyday Joes, like you and I, would be able to log on to CrowdSolve and help other like-minded individuals solve real crimes. From the Indiegogo campaign, the site looks like a mix between a 2000s era computer game, a public service announcement, and a low-budget remake of the Minority Report. The campaign video itself is somewhat absurd — it’s narrated by the most preposterous British accent, and that’s just the beginning.
As of mid-December, the campaign was asking for $50,000 by the end of January, the high cost due to the fact that obtaining the case files and other relevant material will allegedly cost $10,000 per case, a statement that is not cited on the campaign. They have currently raised $500, about 1% of their goal. It seems like they have closed the campaign at the moment.
If it’s not already obvious, I have grave doubts on this idea. First of all, there’s the founder, a Mr. Colin Heilbut. He is described as “social entrepreneur, technologist, and passionate Serial podcast fan”. He is the brains behind such revolutionary ideas as Bistro, a cat feeder that uses facial recognition software to feed house cats and Charlie’s FreeWheels, a program that teaches at-risk youths about bicycle repair. (Author’s note: I hate to go all white girl for a moment, but I just can’t with this guy. Like… I can’t.) “Detective” does not seem to be among his extensive list of careers, which Mr. Heilbut seems to understand. He is operating like a true “entrepreneur” — getting other people to do the work for him.
The “others” who would be doing this grunt work also presents a problem. Who remembers this picture?
It was used by Reddit investigators, aka private citizens, to indict the wrong man of the Boston Marathon bombing. These vigilantes used surveillance of the scene to start a witch hunt for what turned out to be an innocent bystander.
Vigilantism can go to dangerous extremes, especially in a country like America, where far too many people have access to weapons. The George Zimmerman case, anyone? Armed man kills unarmed teenager because he looks sketchy? So let’s give people like that more information, allow them to draw their own conclusions, and set them loose on the world. Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, to me anyway.
I’m not saying that I think more information about these cases is necessarily a bad thing. We all learned a lot from listening to Serial. But who has access to that information and how they use it — that’s not something CrowdSolve would be able to control.