I’m not dogmatic about either side of the debate when it comes to using Reddit to crowdsource information that may lead to better understanding about live events. This isn’t limited to Reddit but is true for any platform available to the public where they can share what they’re seeing with the world. Yes, we all realize there’s the capacity to spread rumors, falsehoods, even smear and libel, which should not be taken lightly. We’ll need to work to find ways to avoid and deal seriously with this element. However we should not dismiss the usefulness of these platforms to be a window into what’s happening anywhere in the world at any time.
I’ve seen great things come out of Storyful’s Open Newsroom, mostly because it consists of pseudo-experts or at least people who have a great deal of respect for the basic tenants of journalism. They’re sharing content they’ve found through social networks that have the potential for high value to help the public better understand the current state of affairs in places like Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, and many more places that have varying degrees of 24/7 on-the-ground coverage. The Open Newsroom acts as a place for folks who care very deeply about “getting things right” to share what they’re seeing and talk amongst themselves and use the tools they’ve learned, both new tricks and old, to ferret out if what we’re seeing is true or false. This isn’t different than journalism as it existed 50 to 100 years ago, except we have the abilty to collaborate better and have access to better tools to verify the accuracy of reports. We have more material and we have more metadata.
Reddit, if the very serious issues of libel and rumor can be managed, can become another great source of information for those further up the chain, like Open Newsroom, to chew over and analyze. There are communities all over Reddit and it’s not accurate to paint them all with the same brush. Some will have stricter rules than others, some will be managed with greater accuracy in mind. We should encourage and nuture it, not dismiss and marginalize it.
It’s far from perfect but it has potential that should be given a chance to grow into what Open Newsroom has become.
Required reading: Lessons in crowdsourced verification of news from Storyful and Syria’s Reddit forum