Man’s Best Friend-
Last year, after three years of dispair, a Florida family’s missing dog was finally found and returned to them. Bill and Dori Gerstein’s dog Bella had been missing since 2013, and the couple was heartbroken. They had put up posters, and created a Facebook page begging for help, and their story was even covered on their local station. Because of the Facebook page, the families story was shared across the country, and when the dog was found last year, the whole community, both in Southern Florida, and online, was overjoyed.
That, my friends, is an example of positive crowdsourcing; when the online community feels like a small town where everyone is connected and looking out for one another. These heartwarming stories of dogs finding homes or families being reunited thanks to social media are examples of when crowdsourcing is most effective.
But the differences between those stories and some other ones is what makes social media such a slippery slope. Crowdsourcing can be dangerous territory for journalists in my opinion. It places a lot of trust in the masses, not saying a journalist can’t verify the information themselves, but in my experience, crowdsourcing tends to end up like a game of telephone. For example, one of my colleagues made the excellent point about the social media during the Sandy Hook crisis. One statement, made in haste, effectively ruined a young mans reputation.
Thats not to say that social media and crowdsourcing are always negative. Crowdsourcing can also be a blessing, because it pools information in one place and can provide more ‘common knowledge’ than a traditional interview could. The internet, when used wisely, is an incredibly powerful tool that spans across the whole globe.
The backlash from that one mistake was resounding, and is a solid testament to the dangers of getting caught up in the whirlwind of an adrenalin fueled moment. One reason journalists often are called vultures is because we have to develop a level of apathy to what we see, especially in intense or devastating times. During the Boston Bombings, it was vital for journalists to maintain their composure and to act as carriers of information to those who were unaware.
At this point in my life, I feel like I would have a very hard time reporting on a breaking story like the Boston Bombing or 9/11… not because I doubt my abilities as a photojournalist but because I feel my need to help those suffering would overwhelm me and I would put everything aside to protect them. Social media tends to get everything muddled, and I often find myself believing without researching, especially when the issue is so emotionally charged. The idea of watching an act of terrorism, or any major disaster unfold on a social platform like Twitter or Facebook seems torturous to say the least. Partially because I’d imagine theres sort of a helplessness to it, but also because at first, it would be hard to weed through what is real and what is fake.