US government organizes internet manhunt, offers 5,000 USD reward

Screenshot: Tag ChallengeOn March 31, the US state department will launch a global man-hunt. Internet users in New York, Washington D.C., Stockholm, London and Bratislava will be given mug shots of five individuals (one per city). Whoever manages to catch them and upload a photo of them within the 12 hour time-limit will be given 5,000 USD. Welcome to terrorism-hunt 2.0.

Officially, there is of course no mention of terrorism on the website of “Tag Challenge“, but there can be little doubt that the game is more than an event “conducted in a spirit of fun and curiosity”.

From the FAQ:

“Our goal is to determine whether and how social media can be used to accomplish a realistic, time-sensitive, international law enforcement goal.”

And – why not? TV shows like “America’s Most Wanted” in the US or “Aktenzeichen XY ungelöst” in Germany, Austria and Switzerland have for many years been relying on the public to help solve crimes and catch criminals. Using social media for the same purpose is in many ways only logical.

Then, how come this makes me feel deeply uneasy? I narrowed it down to three issues:

  • While the TV-programmes that I am familiar with want people to report sightings of wanted persons, they do not encourage anyone to actively go and look for them. You can of course argue that the “criminals” in the game are not dangerous and that this is therefore acceptable, but I think there can be little doubt that the goal of this exercise is to see how to use social media to find the kind of people who have prices on their heads.
  • The organizers encourage the participants to build “networks of spotters and teammates”, which to me is a little too similar to asking people to form a mob.
  • While I have no problem with children playing “catch” or “hide and seek” turning a manhunt into a game just feels wrong. It reminds me of a movie I have seen many years ago (it might have been “Fahrenheit 451”, but I’m not sure) where a dissident is fleeing from the government and everybody is asked to step out of their houses and stand on the street, because if everybody was still and watching, nobody could run in anonymity. In short, it feels a little dystopic.

Like any other technology, social media can be used for all kinds of purposes and this “game” makes me deeply uncomfortable.

What are your thought? Please leave a comment below.

  • Zehra

    Nice one, Timo. And yep…uneasy as well for all the reasons you have so nicely articulated….uneasy enough to not even want to go to the site to see the "game". How did you come across it?

    • I read about it first a month ago and then again a few days ago in Wired.