Case in Point: Crowdsourced News Tests Limits in Boston Bombings

Explosion at Boston marathon

With the Internet such an integral part of all of our lives, many ethical issues arise because of how unrestricted and virtually limitless the Internet is. One of these issues is citizen journalism. Citizen journalism can be a great thing, and can be reputable and well reported. But, it can also be extremely dangerous and cause issues when citizens, who think they know what they’re doing, “report” on things before they know all of the facts. People naturally want to be the first ones to know everything, and sometimes post things before finding out if it’s actually true. And the thing about the Internet is that once you post something, an unlimited amount of people can see it. It’s also never really gone even if you delete it.

Part of being a journalist is making sure that your sources are credible, and that you have the facts straight before you report on something. If you don’t, it can severely hurt your reputation and your credibility. “Citizen journalists,” or people Tweeting about events they witness don’t typically worry about this, and just post things as soon as they hear them. But, this can cause a snowball effect of misinformation and cause people to panic and react to things that aren’t even true. This can cause a huge problem in a crisis or during a big event. It can confuse police and security officials and cause major problems.

This is exactly what happened during the Boston Bombings, as described in the Case in Point in the “Harm” chapter. Bystanders and people in Boston were Tweeting things about the suspects and other details of the bombings that weren’t actually true. News stations even reported on things that people Tweeted that later ended up being disproved. This made the news stations look bad and lose some credibility. In the chaos, the stations seemed to be more interested in getting the newest story the fastest, instead of making sure their facts were straight.

Overall, citizen journalism can be extremely positive, and can help get the word out about important events in nontraditional ways. It’s quicker than traditional journalism, and typically has less of the biases that network news often has. But, it really can go wrong when people don’t think, or don’t know what they’re doing. One Tweet from a random person can get blown out of proportion, or misinterpreted, and before you know it it’s a huge mess.

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