Extra, Extra……Tweet all about it! Real life implications of the emergence of distributed media

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 speed-vs-accuracythe 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!

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 6.47.00 pm

Digital artefact:

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.

Reference List:

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>.


12 thoughts on “Extra, Extra……Tweet all about it! Real life implications of the emergence of distributed media

  1. Hi there!
    Great Prezi, the layout of pictures and formatting of easy to read slides was to be commended firstly as a new-timer to the software I have definitely taken note for the aesthetics in your presentations. I agreed totally, and could personally relate to your points about where people get their news sources from in today’s busy schedule. I hardly ever get to TV for a source of news, let alone the papers or radio, so social media is the most convenient way to stay up to date. Social media inaccuracy seems to be a common disadvantage to it potential, however the aggregation of content could see some validity, if more people report on the same topic, eventually the truth, in theory, should arise. The idea that a huge event can break before it makes it to the newsroom at 6 is a testament to technologies evolution. Thus, when you talk about the problem not lying with social media itself, I can also agree that it’s the legacy media and their gatekeepers trying to prolonge their eventual defeat. This article (http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/tv/z-on-tv-blog/bs-ae-zontv-media2014-20141226-story.html) tells of some of the biggest stories of last year that didn’t make it to traditional news reports.
    Cheers, Sam

    • Hi Sam! Thank you for your comment and feedback. I agree with you that social media is the most convenient way to receive the news, even if traditional media is still the most trusted news source. As you mention, false information and rumours are often driven out by the process of aggregation. However, the Sunil Tripathi case reminds us that rumours can still have real-life implications when circulated beyond an individual tweet or Reddit post.

      The article you linked to is very interesting. I particularly liked the opening statement that gatekeepers no longer drive the national conversation. It is certainly true that some of the most important stories come through unfiltered social media. This can be attributed to the fact that mainstream media does not have the same access to events occurring outside the Western world as do the citizens of non-Western countries who are observing and recording footage in real-time with their smartphones and cameras. One way for mainstream media to now compete is through ‘reverse gatewatching’ where news organisations incorporate citizen journalism into their stories. I wonder whether this is an effective strategy given, as mentioned above, social media is still so much more convenient.

  2. Hi, I really enjoy your prezi! Don’t forget that you can add music to make your presentation more engaging. I agree with Sam in that the more people that report on the same topic the truth should arise.

    I’m glad that the rise in social media has made news tremendously messy because currently in Australia all major newspapers are owned either by News Limited, a subsidiary of News Corporation, or Fairfax media.

    The following link is to a news article outlining Australia’s alternative media.

    What I found most interesting in the article is that more than 30 of Australia’s top 100 online news outlets are from outside Australia!

    • Hi Justine! I forgot that Prezi enables music! I will have to add some to my presentations – thank you very much for the heads up!

      I am very interested in the point you made about liking the ‘messiness’ of today’s news distribution – which is ultimately a better alternative to Australia’s extremely concentrated patterns of media ownership. Indeed, an advantage of social media is that it offers a broad, multi-perspectival analysis of news events compared to the narrow range of perspectives expressed in mainstream media. This raises the question whether social media has contributed to creating a more informed public.

      The article you linked to has a wealth of great information! It would be interesting to investigate the reasons why Australians are increasingly accessing overseas media. Has social media led to an increased interest in foreign affairs? Is mainstream media failing to comprehensively cover overseas news? It is certainly an interesting statistic to consider.

  3. Your prezi is well laid out and has been presented well. Your blog also is quite informative. The phenomenon that we are seeing thees days with the emergence of such a variety of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tublr, and Reddit is quite bizarre when you think about but at the same time not surprizing. People forget that the people that are releasing the information onto these platforms have rarely done the same amount of background research that those who write for a newspaper or magazine are required to do. Unfortunately the outcome can be quite devastating as you have shown with the false accusations of guilt aimed at Sunil Tripathi. Funnily enough with the project my group is doing we are relying on people to send us their own personal stories, or stories that they have heard from friends/family. We are not really checking to see if these stories are real or not, we just want them for the purpose of a little entertainment. We certainly hope that they are true however, and will make sure that no names are leaked so as not to spread any false rumours about people we do not know, no matter how funny it might seem. https://www.facebook.com/Admit2it?fref=ts
    Great work, keep it up!

  4. Hi Nyssa! Thank you for your comment. It is true that citizen journalists do not always undertake the same vigorous background research that is required in mainstream media. However, the case of Sunil Tripathi shows that mainstream media can also play a role in spreading false and inaccurate information.

    I love how you have related this topic to your project. In terms of your project, it would also be interesting to consider the idea of gatekeeping. If somebody posted a story that is inappropriate, would you take it down? Do you filter and curate the stories you receive? This topic has really made me consider some of these issues in relation to my own project.

  5. Your blog post was one of the more enjoyable posts to read for this weeks topics! you outlined the information in a neat organised way and you had images to go along with the text that automatically makes reading it more engaging. The Prezi was also extremely well put together!

    I was on Reddit and following along with the Boston bombing live feed as it was happening and seeing the sheer amount of comments and speculation about who the bomber was was obscene and shows one of the downsides to citizen journalism. This was also the case in the shooting of the news reporters about a month ago, with people saying that they have analysed the videos and gone through workers of the company to find who the shooter was, only to accuse the wrong people! Through this they did find the shooter responsible’s Twitter where he posted videos that he shot himself of him murdering the crew which was something i could never forget. It goes to show you that in almost all cases a distributed network or citizen journalists can be seconds, minutes or hours ahead of legacy media channels.

    • Hi James! Thank-you for your lovely comments and insight. The two examples you have provided are very pertinent to issues concerning the reliability of citizen journalism. It is very difficult on social media to distinguish fact from rumour and speculation, particularly when traditional news outlets are not as fast in their coverage of such events. Not only are there ethical issues surrounding this, but accusing the wrong people can also have real-life implications.

  6. Hey Giverny. Great post. I liked your prezi. I agree that is seems that journalist often rely heavily on twitter. when this happens there is really no time for fact checking and mistakes are inevitable. Twitter seems to have realized this reliance too because they now are going to implement their new curation feature. I think this would make it so much easier for journalist to just lift information from twitter.


    • Hi Jacqueline. Thank you for the link. I think it is a concern that Twitter’s own staff will be curating the content. By choosing which tweets to include, you would assume there will be accusations of bias. Also, what about tweets from “ordinary” users? It appears that the service is only selecting tweets from official accounts and verified users, but some of the most insightful and thought-provoking tweets on major events often come from the opinions of casual users. It will be interesting to see whether this service takes off.

  7. Again, I love you take and insights on this topic! I was aware that the aftermath of the Boston Bombings was a messy ordeal in regards to citizen journalism and can often be an argument against it. Until I read your post, I had never considered the ‘gate-watchers’ role in it all and realised that the problem lies within the interaction of traditional media coverage and new-age citizen journalism. Thanks for an informative post!

    • Thanks for your comment Emma! It is very important to consider the interaction between mainstream and ‘alternative’ media sources. How do the two modes of reporting inform and modify each others’ reportage, including the sharing of information (and misinformation)? I wonder whether it is possible for these two sources to be cooperative and collaborate in their reportage. I think this would be beneficial for audiences who are often presented with contradictory stories from different sources.

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