During the chaos of the bombings that took place at the Boston Marathon on April 15th, a very interesting phenomenon emerged which shines a light on the future of news, journalism and by stretching the analogy, law enforcement - going forward into the future.
As the United States and more specifically the state of Boston was gripped by the horror story that unfolded, citizens stood together and started to form virtual vigilante groups, with the sole purpose of trying to find and apprehend those responsible for the bombings. 10 years ago, this would have been a fruitless exercise. However, in today's terms, this vigilante idea can have some significant impact! Here's why:
- Firstly, everyone is their own reporter. Everyone has their own video camera, voice recorder, publication device and the audience to boot - right in their smartphones. Law enforcement, using their static CCTV cameras simply cannot scale to compete with the thousands of different views, angles and perspectives given by the people in the immediate area.
- Secondly, with information being shared at such breakneck speeds - never has news travelled so fast. One lead picked up by a well-placed bystander would literally reverberate around the world in seconds - thus exponentially increasing the speed of the hunt.
- Thirdly, once those clips and leads were shared - the huge audience that is 'the internet' make quick work of it all. The virtual vigilantes set out to analyse every piece of footage, debate every possible situation and ended up crafting some pretty intricate conspiracy theories. I found it really interesting how huge debates popped up on social media sites such as Reddit, where people were analysing video clips and profiling suspects, ruling out alibis and discussing various thought patterns. It was incredible to see! All of a sudden, law enforcement can be scaled! That is powerful.
The results definitely pay homage to the tremendous advantages I mentioned above as the bombers were found and brought to justice. I was satisfied with the phenomenon.
However I was forced to rethink it after another article I read drew a contrasting point, a dark side of this YouTube reporting.
In a recent issue of TIME magazine, they spoke about the Syrian War and how the handheld technology is giving us real, transparent clips of everything that goes on. No longer are we held ransom to the propaganda of traditional news agencies, believing exactly what it is that they tell us!
Or are we?
In gruesome detail, fighters on both sides of the war have taken to posting videos on YouTube and other video sharing sites, of the humiliation, degradation and often murder of prisoners in an attempt to frighten their enemies. In much the same way as the Roman Gladiators basked in their opponents blood in front of the masses, these people bask in the eyes of the world - across the internet. The blood-stained internet.
This kind of YouTube reporting brings the violence and terror into the homes of anyone with an electronic device, in so doing - possibly inciting mass panic, uproar and fear. FEAR is what these monsters crave and YouTube gives them the opportunity to incite this, with almost instant gratification.
The ability to spread fear virally is a dangerous thought, power that could be really harmful when in the wrong hands. This could simply be the next form of propaganda. Only time will tell us...
So is YouTube reporting for the better or for the worse?
The two use cases I described might seem worlds apart, but as I thought about them more and more - I realised,
They are a lot closer than you would think.
The mob can bring good and bad.
Especially with a camera.