At its very best, it gives voice to the disenfranchised. The first time I really, truly noticed it was around 4 a.m. I'd come home from a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises to news of a tragic movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.
I watched my Twitter feed, which was moving feverishly, considering the hour, spitting out information at a rapid clip.
Standards and practices rarely exist (save for a halfhearted "don't doxx" maxim in communities like Reddit); ethics are secondary concerns and reputation is rarely in jeopardy, thanks to the protective veil of online anonymity.
Victory often goes to the actor most willing to do harm, to be wrong, or both.
None of which is to say that the media establishment is infallible — the rise of the vigilante investigation and record-low levels of public distrust of media is surely no coincidence.
The internet's uncanny ability to add fuel to the fire of our cultural obsessions no doubt plays a role as well.
While the Boston bombing Reddit disaster tempered media optimism toward of the online citizen investigative complex, its high profile was a clear signal to the anonymous practitioners of vigilante "journalism": True or not, their voices were a dominant part of the greater media landscape.
That night, however, my feed was dominated by links to Reddit, where an 18-year-old student from Denver named Morgan Jones spent the night chained to his dual monitors, exhaustively collecting and dutifully updating a Reddit thread with posts from local media, police scanners, and on-the-ground social media posts.Reddit was cautiously excited about this development; then-general manager Erik Martin told me that "what is on the news isn't always the story that people want to talk about and be involved with.On this site, you can get into and explore what you're truly interested in." The next day, Jones' thread found an Adult Friend Finder profile that seemed to belong to the shooter, James Holmes, that had gone unfound by legacy outlets."It feels like I'm helping out people who need to know this stuff," he said.Jones' aims, in other words, were well-intentioned; he wanted to work with the media, not in spite of it.