Forget the totalitarian state of George Orwell’s 1984. These days, thanks to the smartphone, access to live surveillance and news lies, quite literally, in the hands of the people. This was made abundantly clear in the aftermath of the Boston bombings; photos of the event soon circulated on the net and what followed was one of the first recognised examples of ”digilantism”; a global, crowd-sourced effort to locate the perpetrators.
Mainstream media coverage of the hunt for the bombers was also widely criticised, with many commentators on social media pointing out that official news anchors were doing little more than reading out the Twitter feeds of police officials – something people were doing themselves at home. The only legitimacy of what they were reporting came from their studio surroundings.
The reaction to Boston was far from an anomaly, and this method of personally seeking out the real story (and even, to a certain extent, playing a part in it) looks set to become even more popular in light of the recent success that hacktivist group Anonymous achieved in its efforts to crowdfund an official platform for Your Anon News.
A statement accompanying the Indiegogo campaign outlines the group’s objectives: “Over the past two years Your Anon News (YAN) has been many things to many people and has continuously evolved under the guidance of numerous contributors… Those of us contributing to YAN have always desired to expand our capabilities and to report, not just aggregate, the news. We haven’t had a space to provide a proper forum for our many contributors and talented supporters. We love the livestreamers that provide YAN with first-hand reporting and the independent journalists whose voices often go unheard.”
Anonymous set the crowdfunding goal at $2,000. By the time the campaign reached its conclusion, over $54,000 had been raised towards the platform: “Our goal as YAN contributors will be to take what we have learned over the past few years and create a new environment were content is not determined solely by external sources. We will engineer a new website which will allow us to collect breaking reports and blog postings from the best independent reporters online. We’ll provide feeds for citizen journalists who livestream events as they are taking place, instead of the 10-second sound bites provided by the corporate media.”
Trust in our media sources has always been a hot button issue, and it is easy to see the appeal for many in a platform which offers citizens a chance to report on events themselves. An official Your Anon News platform would also be less likely to fall prey to some of the missteps made by other publications; I’m referring, of course, to the recent revelation that Michelle Boatley, a reporter for Thomson Reuters-owned title Australasian Legal Business (ALB), doesn’t actually exist. Boatley was revealed to be a pseudonym under which a number of writers contributed content, and was invented to make ALB’s reporting staff seem larger than it truly was.
A community of on-the-ground reporters sounds ideal in theory; a fully democratised collective of citizens telling their own stories. And live news can come from the unlikeliest of sources. For instance, just last month, American jihadist (and notorious Twitter troll) Omar Hammami live-tweeted his own assassination attempt in Somalia: “sitting in tea place then 3 shots behind to left.” It is safe to say that Fox News might have struggled to obtain a sound bite from such a controversial figure.
It is old news by now that the internet has revolutionised the way we create, distribute, digest and engage with content. The Huffington Post has long provided a platform for non-journalists to express their views and personal experiences, but if traditional media structures are going to survive then further democratisation and diversification may be necessary. After all; a professionally researched, well written story might be the ideal, but that takes time. To borrow Gawker.com’s tagline; today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news, but the advent of Your Anon News may soon be able to deliver tomorrow’s news today.