The Capitol Riot Highlighted the Value—and Pitfalls—of Crowdsourced OSINT

The Capitol Riot Highlighted the Value—and Pitfalls—of Crowdsourced OSINT
Seeking information flyers produced by the FBI to identify alleged Capitol rioters, photographed on Dec. 20, 2021 (AP photo by Jon Elswick).

In the months after the storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, law enforcement agencies received an avalanche of tips and witness statements claiming to have evidence that might help identify those allegedly involved in the insurrection. Many of these tips from the public were the result of online crowdsourcing and amateur detective e-sleuthing, and with their help, the FBI has arrested over 700 suspects in the year since then.

The use of crowdsourced, open-source intelligence, or OSINT, to hold the Capitol rioters accountable highlights the ways in which this technique has rapidly spread in recent years, its value in helping to investigate crimes—and its potential pitfalls and misuses. 

Teams of online sleuths came together spontaneously in the aftermath of the Capitol assault to investigate and analyze photos and videos posted online—often by those who took part—to identify the rioters, sometimes inculpating family members in the process. These crowdsourced investigations aided authorities in finding suspects as well as evidence against participants, including the now-infamous Jacob Chansley, known as the QAnon Shaman, who featured prominently in photos and video of the attack wearing a horned fur hat and stars-and-stripes face paint.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.