Thursday, April 18, 2013

Big Brother Is Us

When No One's Watching - Craig Finn (mp3)

One of the many picture breakdowns posted
and discussed on 4chan and Reddit.
The bombing of the Boston Marathon is the first American tragedy filmed by a million cell phones and iPads, dozens of security cameras, and untold numbers of videographers and photojournalists. It is, in ways never before seen, a Prime Time Disaster.

In the minutes before, during and after the two explosions that rocked a city and sent a country into 9/11 Flashback Mode, nothing escaped the eyes of untold dozens, maybe hundreds, of cameras.

The FBI and police requested that citizens send them their photos and videos, and people quickly and happily obliged, as we are (almost) all on the same page in wanting to find the fucker(s) who did this.

But what wasn’t quite expected was that the investigation itself would be crowdsourced. Not officially. Not legitimately or with approval. But just because we now can, because we now have that power.

Big Brother isn’t the government. Big Brother isn’t completely, contrary to Bob’s recent observations, a parental unit. Big Brother is us. All of us. And like most things, there’s some bad and some good in it.

Some sites and writers are intrigued by this empowerment, while others are horrified. Writes Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic:
“But they are not real cops. They are well-meaning people who have not considered the moral weight of what they're doing.* This is vigilantism, and it's only the illusion that what we do online is not as significant as what we do offline that allows this to go on.This is not how civil society works. There is a reason that police have procedures around investigations and evidence. Due process is important.”
While Madrigal’s points -- much like Bob’s points about parental (over)hovering -- should be considered and respected, they are also misguided.

Are 4chan and Reddit's photo crowdsourced
photo investigators a new CyberPosse?
Or something far more useful and far less dangerous?
Is it “vigilantism” that a Masters viewer called an official to rat out Tiger Woods’ illegal ball drop (no pun intended), costing the Vegas favorite a 2-stroke penalty? Are Amber Alerts encouraging vigilantism when our phones buzz us to be on the lookout for a certain make or model of car, or a vague description of adults and children?

While I have respect for police and federal investigators, their training and commitment to duty while earning jack shit for a salary, they’re not superpowered Will Grahams or Sherlocks capable of deducing all crimes in an hour, commercials included. Anyone who sat through “The Central Park Five” this week would know that cops are neither perfect at solving crimes or above cheating to save face.

In fact, if there’s a race between 10 police detectives and 1,000 nerds on the Internet, and the 1,000 nerds are given just 70% of the information those dicks have, I’m putting my money on the nerds.

Although the book WORM involves people a bit more sophisticated in their expertise than your garden-variety Internet nerd, the point gets across that many of the world’s greatest experts in certain fields are most decidedly not government employees. Further, the notion of crowdsourcing is consistently proving to have power in a wide array of fields, from uncovering evidence of rape in small towns to mapping brainwave paths for MIT.

We’re becoming an entire population of Internet narcs, maids, and Nancy Drews. The world is becoming one super-sized gratis Internet intern factory. And mostly it’s pretty cool.

The potential good of it almost makes up for all the stupid Nigerian email scams. But if Anonymous really wants to impress me, they’ll shut those freaking mofos down next... They’d be true immortal heroes if they could put a few bananas up that tailpipe!

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