Fans of the popular television show America's Most Wanted will tell you it's all about getting a suspects face out there on the street. Typically, it isn't too long after a someone is profiled on the show that they turn up in some small town somewhere posing as a video store clerk or a school teacher.
Honestly, people eat this stuff up! Watch some of the testimonials from the folks who identify them.
In fact, this model is so popular, the State Department has figured out a way to take it to the next level. Guess how? Well it's called the Tag Challenge. Tag Challenge is sponsored by the US Department of State and the US Embassy in Prague, in association with the Institute of International Education. Essentially, it's a mock robbery that is being crowdsourced to the public via social media and of course, like any great villains, the "jewel thieves" have a hefty price on their heads.
The only clues participants recieve is a series of suspect photos and a couple listings of where they've been seen. Forget the FBI and CIA, this ones up to the people, just like America's Most Wanted.
The Challenge offered a $5000 reward to any group who could track down the suspects in a 12 hour timeframe. Guess what? Someone actually got the job done. A group identified and photographed three of the five suspects among thousands of civilians on crowded city streets in less then 12 hours. Very impressive!
TAG project organizer Joshua deLara comments on the results of the contest:
"The project demonstrates the international reach of social media and its potential for cross-border cooperation,"
"It's remarkable that a team organized by individuals in the U.S., the U.K and the United Arab Emirates was able to locate an individual in Slovakia in under eight hours based only on a photograph."
Manuel Cebrian, an MIT and UC San Diego researcher who co-led the winning team remarked on the motivation for undertaking the challenge:
"...the incentives behind that are very plain. If you happen to spot the bad guy, you might get some money,"
"For incentives, it gives you the best of both worlds, it has all the best of the viral, social media world, but also the motive of greed."
"Over the last five years or so, we've seen citizens being empowered by social media, especially in the Arab Spring, to rise up against their governments. I think what the (U.S.) government has realized now is that they can tap into social media too in order to do things that would otherwise be impossible or very expensive. This is a completely different thing."
"We actually know that mass media is much more powerful than social media in spreading information around the world," he said. "What we need to understand is how much more powerful it is. Is it a hundred times? Is it a thousand times? What we still don't have is data about exactly how information spreads around the world."
This is interesting stuff. Remember when everyone was preaching about how the internet was going to make he world a smaller place? This is another prime example of how it's happening. I like it..... I think? Either way, law enforcement is just getting started with social media. Follow the TAG Challenge link to learn more about it.