On the other hand, Internet participation is so new that law enforcement isn't sure how to handle it, he says. It's like the old-fashioned police-tip lines, except on a much bigger scale. (After the FBI released photos of the bombing suspects, its website received more than 300,000 tips per minute, according to news reports.)
Like eliminating bugs from software programs, it takes time to weed the cranks out of the system -- and, in a fast-moving case like Boston, the cranks went viral, as all the false IDs and dead ends indicated.
"I think there's a lot of issues with doing this, but I hope these people have a protocol," White says.
Oscar Baez, a 24-year south Florida law enforcement veteran, agrees that participants on sites such as Reddit should funnel their theories and suggestions to authorities.
"On the computer, you can do whatever you want to, as long as you don't interfere with somebody's rights," says Baez, who now heads a private firm called Executive Tactical Training. "I always say, give us the information, let us do the legwork, let us do the computer work, let us do everything."
It's not just for reasons of privacy and proper legal protocol, he adds. People can get hurt. Baez has had tipsters call who tell him they've been conducting surveillance on suspects, which makes him furious.
"What if they're following the real suspect? What if they're following a murderer? Once that person realizes there's somebody following them, the chances are pretty good they're going to get hurt," he says. And hiding behind a computer is no promise of safety, he adds: "Even contacting that person online can still be traced back to you."
As with past episodes -- such as the naming of the wrong suspect in the Newtown massacre -- the frantic pursuit of information can come perilously close to mob justice.
The subreddit board, interestingly, was aware of how things could go wrong. Throughout last week's chain of events, two of the most popular entries were dedicated to Richard Jewell, the man falsely accused of the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park bombing, and a link to an Errol Morris video on "Umbrella Man," a figure who has been wrongly named in a number of JFK conspiracy theories.
Both functioned as warnings for what could happen when gut reaction overwhelmed calm rationality.
Oops777, the redditor who set up findbostonbombers in the first place, kept trying to rein in both Reddit users and the news media.
"Media Outlets, please stop making the images of potential suspects go viral, then blaming this small subreddit for it," he titled one post. "Until the media got involved, none of the images were going anywhere but to the FBI."
But maintaining control is always going to be a challenge on such free-flowing sites, says Reddit's Martin.
"I don't think we can fix the basic problems with human behavior," he says.
But, he adds, "We can certainly mitigate it. If we can make sure to channel people's desire to help and adrenaline-fueled activity into things that are clearly positive and aren't fraught with as many dangerous (possibilities), that should be the aim for any future crisis."