In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, amateur detectives lit up social media with speculation that missing university student, Sunil Tripathi, was one of the bombers (Shih 2013). These erroneous reports were recirculated by mainstream media, causing distress for Tripathi’s family (Shih 2013).
Distributed media has facilitated the emergence of ad hoc, decentralised collaboration, unleashing ‘crowdsleuthing’, a phenomenon whereby large groups of people mobilise online to analyse data (Blum 2014). In cases of crime investigation, crowdsleuthing fuels a frenzied online witch hunt that has real-life implications (Howard 2015).
As rumours are picked up by established news organisations due to the pressure to compete with fast-flowing social media, people without the time or resources to search out the truth accept misinformation. This is exacerbated by the demise of the journalistic gatekeeping model (Bruns 2009, p.105), with unverified speculation spiralling, resulting in negative and dangerous consequences for innocent parties.
In this way, blaming social media for the Sunil Tripathi debacle is ill-informed. Instead, the real problem lies in the constantly evolving interaction between reporters working for mainstream companies, “gatewatchers” (Bruns 2009, p.105) compiling news from external sources and the thousands of individual users participating in their own curation and aggregation of information. Indeed, as one reporter from the NY Times notes, journalism has become a ‘tremendously messy’ process (Kang 2013).
Click on the image below to check out my Prezi infographic on this topic!
The gatekeeping paradigm of disseminating ‘all the news that’s fit to print’ is important for my project. The blog Happy Tails leverages the power of the collective intelligence of cat owners to encourage adoption. Through aggregating, filtering and curating cat adoption and rescue stories, I aim to project the idea that cats are wonderful companions who are both loving and loyal. A gatekeeping approach is, thus, critical to ensure each individual story presents cats in a positive light.
Another benefit of gatekeeping for my project is the ability to take an active role in producing the content. While today’s participatory culture allows for the distributed control of the production of content, in reality, it is very difficult to encourage people to participate as ‘produsers’ without any direct incentive. Through setting up a simple survey where cat owners can fill in details about their cat’s adoption story, I hope to encourage people to participate. In fact, the ability for cat owners to have their cat’s adoption story mediated and shared may itself be an incentive for participating.
Blum, J 2014, ‘Crowdsleuthing: curiosity can be a double-edged sword’, Conversation, 15 December, accessed 17 September 2015, <http://theconversation.com/crowdsleuthing-curiosity-can-be-a-double-edged-sword-35218>.
Bruns, A 2009, ‘News blogs and citizen journalism: new directions for e-journalism’, in K Prasad (ed.), e-Journalism: New Media and News Media, BR Publishing, Delhi, p.101-126.
Howard, M 2015, ‘Spot the Terrorist: the dangers of crowd-sleuthing’, Overland, 2 February, accessed 17 September 2015, <https://overland.org.au/2015/02/spot-the-terrorist-the-dangers-of-crowd-sleuthing/>.
Kang, JC 2013, ‘Should Reddit Be Blamed for the Spreading of a Smear?’, New York Times Magazine, 25 July, accessed 17 September 2015, <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/magazine/should-reddit-be-blamed-for-the-spreading-of-a-smear.html?pagewanted=8&_r=2>.
Shih, G 2013, ‘Boston Marathon bombings: How Twitter and Reddit got it wrong’, Independent, 20 April, accessed 17 September 2015, <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/boston-marathon-bombings-how-twitter-and-reddit-got-it-wrong-8581167.html>.