Semi-Organized Crime: The Dark Side of Crowdsourcing

10 May

Can crowdsourcing be used as a tool for evil? - Tommaso De Benetti, Microtask

In a recent Microtask post, Tommaso De Benetti calls to memory the heart-pounding scene in The Dark Knight where the Joker essentially crowdsources crime by going on TV and threatening to blow up a hospital unless a particular person is killed. De Benetti ponders the ramifications; could real-life crime be crowdsourced in a similar fashion? He offers two scenarios he thinks could be effective.

The first method is pretty much the real-world application of Joker’s ultimatum; a cyber-terrorist posts on Facebook (for example) that they will blow up the Eiffel Tower unless everyone goes to Website X and donates $5 to him. He describes it accurately as “a cross between crowdfunding site Kickstarter and those absurd guilt-trip chain emails”, but would it work? Probably not. Joker’s ruse was successful for two reasons:

  1. He’s the Joker. When he says he’s going to blow up a hospital, people tend to believe him. Random Facebook poster? Probably not going to get as much credibility. He’d have to prove he’s capable of such a thing, and in doing that he would most likely attract law enforcement attention, nipping the whole thing in the bud.
  2. He was on Gotham TV. Joker knew his audience. His message was targeted towards a scared, doubtful audience, one that had already put very little faith in traditional methods of keeping the peace. In the real world, a message like this hits a much different crowd, and we probably can’t expect the reaction to be similar. Someone who actually believes this terrorist’s message (see point #1) is more likely to simply call the cops or FBI than actually donate their hard-earned and scarce funds.

De Benetti’s second method, however, has already seen some success. It involves using an online medium to organize a mass robbery of a certain store. The organizer offers to buy the loot, and the crowd organizes their own lookouts, getaway vehicles, and systems to decide who gets a cut of what. We’ve seen this in small-scale with flash robberies. If a mob was to collaborate to attempt a bigger heist, they certainly have the tools to do so, but at a certain point it seems bound to collapse on itself; all you need is one miscommunication or stool pigeon, and suddenly your big heist has no getaway cars. Or worse, the police are waiting for you when you arrive.

Flash Mob Welcoming Party

Your crowdsourced mafia’s welcoming party.

The best example of real-world crowdsourced crime that I can think of is Anonymous’ DDoS raids of various websites. While it equates to little more than Internet vandalism, the heart of crowdsourcing is absolutely present here. This is a group that anyone can join, organized grassroots-style, which has no leader and its participants have no illusions of personal glory. Their actions are for a cause they see as righteous and use methods that could only be accomplished by a large group of loosely-organized individuals. Nothing more crowdsource-y than that.

Do you think crime can be crowdsourced? Tell me in the comments how you’d build your own ground-up crime syndicate.

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3 Responses to “Semi-Organized Crime: The Dark Side of Crowdsourcing”

  1. Daniel Gill (@DanielMGill) May 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    Another crowdsourced crime, robber than hired actors to dress just like him from Craigslist http://news.cnet.com/bank-robber-hires-decoys-on-craigslist-fools-cops/

    • Seth W May 15, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      Oh wow, this reads like something out of a sitcom. Great link! I hadn’t really considered crimes where the crowd was tricked instead of an accomplice.

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