Over the past two years, millions of words have been spilled in the popular press about the power of social media to organize citizens against repressive regimes. But what if those same tools could be employed by democratic governments mobilizing citizens to achieve positive ends?
A competition the State Department co-sponsored aimed to answer that question in a very specific way. A fictional group of jewel thieves (portrayed by real people) was scattered across five global cities, and a $5,000 bounty was offered to whomever could track them down within 12 hours. The only information the Internet-organized sleuths had to go on was pictures of the "suspects."
The results were impressive, organizers of the TAG Challenge said. The winning team's participants managed to find and photograph three of the five people on the crowded streets of Washington, New York and Bratislava, Slovakia. Suspects in Stockholm and London evaded capture.
"The project demonstrates the international reach of social media and its potential for cross-border cooperation," said project organizer Joshua deLara. "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."
The winning team said it was not yet ready to say how many people participated pending some further statistical analysis, but the total crowd who took part on the side of the team that won amounted to somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 people.
I'd like to thank all of the sheep that participated in the State Department's little "game". Just because you have skills doesn't mean you have to jump up and down like a kid wanting to show off for Teacher for the first person to offer you a prize. Give your ego a break, man.