CBS Show 'Wisdom Of The Crowd' Raises A Question: Is It Wise To Give Everyone A Vigilante App?

CBS 'Wisdom of the Crowd' Raises a Question: Is It Wise To Give Everyone a Vigilante App?
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“Wisdom of the Crowd,” in which a tech visionary harnesses the collective power of social media to solve crimes, works hard to make us feel like the good guys can win.

By the end, it’s more disturbing than reassuring.

<p>Jeremy Piven as Jeffrey Tanner.</p>

Jeremy Piven as Jeffrey Tanner.


Wisdom of the Crowd, which debuts Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on CBS, stars Jeremy Piven as Jeffrey Tanner, a super-rich tech innovator whose daughter was murdered a year earlier.

He sells his company, cheap, to devote his time to developing Sophe, a crowdsourcing app wherein every subscriber becomes eyes and ears for law enforcement in hunting bad guys.

Specifically, he offers $100 million to anyone who can find his daughter’s killer. A fellow named Carlos Ochoa is already locked up for it, but Tanner is convinced he didn’t do it, which means Tanner must also persuade the police to reopen a case they think is already solved.

So Tanner reaches out to Detective Tommy Cavanaugh (Richard T. Jones), who worked the original investigation and also didn’t think Ochoa did it.

<p>Jeremy Piven and Richard T. Jones.</p>

Jeremy Piven and Richard T. Jones.


Cavanaugh signs on with reluctance, because he has deep reservations about getting large numbers of civilians involved with investigations and manhunts that often rely on secrecy and discretion.

Two traits for which Internet users, collectively, are not renowned.

Tanner also faces skepticism from his ex-wife Alex (Monica Potter), now a congresswoman. Their relationship is summarized when Alex tells Jeffrey he was a good Dad and a really terrible husband.

Since CBS still loves its procedurals, with very good reason, Wisdom of the Crowd mostly treats the personal stuff as add-ons. The hunt for the perp gets most of the focus, even when it takes a direction Tanner did not expect.

What turns out to be unavoidable, however, are the concerns raised by Cavanaugh and a few others about the danger of putting speculative information, or suspicions, out there for the public to see and potentially act on.

Send out a blast on Sophe that the police want to talk to person X, particularly in an emotionally charged case where the perp did something heinous, and a certain number of people are going to assume person X must have done it and let their inner vigilante loose.

Most times, of course, police are just looking for information. There’s also this little matter called due process, and the pesky “innocent until proven guilty” concept.

Throughout American history, some percentage of the population has looked on those restraints as annoying details, red tape that only slows the wheels of justice. That’s why thousands of lynchings are part of our permanent record.

To its credit, Wisdom of the Crowd acknowledges this concern not just with abstract speeches, but with a character who is set upon by a flashmob because Sophe lets people know the police want to talk with him.

To the issue of whether sharing preliminary investigation data with the public violates the traditional privacy expectations of Americans, Jeffrey Tanner has a short answer.

“We gave up our privacy a long time ago,” he says, with a figurative wave of his hand, “so we could watch cat videos on our phones.”

The most unsettling scene comes when a suspect is sighted by Sophe users, who send out his location and are joined by so many other Sophe users that eventually it looks like a zombie herd from The Walking Dead, or it would if zombies had iPhones.

Eventually a policeman arrives and arrests the suspect. The crowd applauds.

That is to say, it looks like a group of random civilians with phones could corner and corral a dangerous criminal.

Heartening thought. But one that, in the real world, doesn’t necessarily come with a guaranteed good outcome. We train police and law enforcement organizations because training matters.

Likewise, our affection for cat videos doesn’t mean we like the idea that our every move and utterance might be relayed to the authorities. Or anyone with a phone.

<p>Monica Potter and Jeremy PIven.</p>

Monica Potter and Jeremy PIven.


Sharp-eyed viewers will also note that Wisdom of the Crowd in a real sense is a sequel to another recent CBS crime drama, Person of Interest.

On Person of Interest, one man triangulated computer surveillance data to solve and even predict criminal conduct. Wisdom envisions triangulating random real-time data from thousands or millions of cell phone users.

Maybe that’s the future. Maybe that’s what’s really disturbing here. But hey, right now, maybe that makes Wisdom of the Crowd a more resonant TV show.

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