The FBI has undertaken what is law enforcement's highest-profile effort at crowdsourcing to date: asking for help identifying two suspects linked to this week's Boston Marathon bombing.
"Someone out there knows these individuals," Richard DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston field office, told reporters this afternoon. He asked the media and the public for help in "identifying and locating these individuals."
The photos published on the FBI's Web site show two men, one wearing a black baseball cap and carrying a backpack, and the other wearing a white baseball cap, around the scene of the blasts.
Asking the public for help is hardly new, of course: post office "wanted" posters were standard police procedure over a century ago. A journalist who became the British "railway murderer" in the late 1800s was the subject of a wanted poster that appeared in newspapers, and a Jesse James wanted poster from Missouri was recently sold for $42,000 at an auction. The FBI routinely asks for the public's help in identifying bank robbers.
But a traditional manhunt becomes something much different in the age of Twitter, Instagram, and face recognition technology.
Fueling that in the Boston investigation is the proliferation of camera-capable devices that accompanied such a high profile event -- one runner even captured the blast live on her head-cam -- coupled with a heightened interest in finding the perpetrators that's given rise to a distributed investigative effort on sites such as Reddit and 4chan.
The New York Post made a high-profile mistake today when it published a front-page photo, with the headline "Bag Men," implying that two people were suspects in the bombing. But they weren't: Salah Barhoun, 17, told ABC News that he was shocked to find himself falsely linked to the explosions.
Without mentioning any Web site by name, Deloria took a swipe at some of those distributed efforts, presumably ones like Reddit's findbostonbombers, that have identified a plenitude of possible suspects.
The photos released today are "the only ones that the public should view to assist us," Deloria said. He added: "Other photos should not be deemed credible [and] create undue work for vital law enforcement resources."
An announcement on Reddit posted after the FBI's press conference began says: "At this point in time the only photographs that are allowed to be posted in this subreddit are images that may contain the FBI's two suspects -- all others will be deleted."