I Spy with my little Reddit

The introduction of Web 2.0 changed the way we interact online, eventually this transcended into the offline world, nowhere has this change been more prevalent than in the world of journalism. The Internet has created new ways to produce and consume news, with the introduction of blogging challenging the traditional conception of what it means to be a ‘journalist’. This has brought forth mass amaturization and a rise in citizen journalism, where by citizens themselves take on the role of journalist.

This abundance of content meant that access to information is cheap, the expense laid in the formatting of this content, aggregating and curating the content in order to extract value. This created a need for constant information sorting, in this context aggregation and curation become more valuable than authorship.

During the Boston Bombings, Reddit users showed just how powerful the ‘hivemind’ of online users could be in curating and aggregating information in real-time. The fast feedback loop of Reddit dwarfed that of traditional news outlets, at one point giving minute by minute updates about the chase of the Tsarnaev brothers. Accessed through tapping and aggregating all police scanners in the area, while most media chose to focus on the fact that users failed to identify the perpetrators.

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I feel that it would be more valuable here to focus on what Reddit got right, firstly they collected and verified information by curating and aggregating the information about the bombings (police reports, news articles, photos, videos). Secondly they provided sources for users to assist in the investigation and of people who were injured (from Google’s person finder Red Cross), where to pick up items left on the scene ect. Lastly, it helped verify facts, users monitoring and moderating posts claims by ordering other users to verify their claims (Ingram 2013).

These users performed valuable functions that Surowiecki (2013) sees as a crucial part in “broader landscape of the ecosystem of networked journalism”. While I wouldn’t call these users journalist or detectives in the traditional sense, I do think that we haven’t yet quantified or defined their contributions; these users operate in a new era, the ‘information age’ as Bruns (2009, p.1) puts it. Thus we cannot apply industrial age thinking and call them journalist, we need to either broaden the concept of journalism to include these users or call them something else.

While these users may have made a few miscalculations, it’s insignificant compared to the insights the event gave about curation and aggregation capabilities of online hiveminds. Programs like NASA’s Clickworkers experiment have found that the aggregated judgments of amateur ‘clickworkers’ were “virtually indistinguishable from the inputs of Expert geologist” (Benkler, 2006, p. 365).

References

Benkler, Y 2006, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, Yale University Press, London, pp. 334 – 413, accessed 25 September 2015, http://www.benkler.org/Benkler_Wealth_Of_Networks.pdf

Ingram, M 2013, Three things that Reddit did right during the Boston bombings and why that matters, accessed 16 September 2015, https://gigaom.com/2013/04/23/three-things-that-reddit-did-right-during-the-boston-bombings-and-why-that-matters/

Surowiecki, J 2013, The Wise Way to Crowdsource a Manhunt, accessed 15 September 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-wise-way-to-crowdsource-a-manhunt

Bruns, A 2009, News Blogs and Citizen Journalism: New Directions for e-Journalism, Queensland University of Technology, pp 1 – 20

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