Over 25,000 people have joined the hunt to find the missing Air Malaysia flight MH370 by scouring through scores of high-resolution satellite photographs that have been uploaded to the Tomnod website by DigitalGlobe.
If visitors see anything that looks suspicious – oil slicks, large objects or debris – then they can bring attention to their discoveries by tagging the area in question. If more than one person tags the same area, then a team of behind-the-scenes experts at Tomnod investigate the satellite imagery before handing it over to the authorities in charge of the search.
Tomnod previously used the same strategy during the Philippine typhoon to locate and identify damaged structures and floating items in order to help with the recovery process.
And while the latest example is relatively harmless in the sense that is unlikely to interfere with the investigative process too extensively, crowd-sourcing of information also has a more sinister side.
During the search for the Boston Bombers, a string of innocent bystanders were misidentified as possible suspects via social media. Given that the digital age places enormous pressure on news outlets to break stories, many publications ran with such stories and thereby caused those pinpointed to suffer an additional ordeal.
But social media has also led to several criminals being caught, either because they were silly enough to post evidence on Facebook or because the police actively used platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to search for alleged criminals.