Human beings have incredible pattern-recognition abilities, which drive us to make meaningful connections across a vast array of information. Through its free exchange of information and capacity to reach a colossal audience, the Internet is an empowering place for individuals to revolutionize the future trajectory of mankind.
Citizen investigative journalism is a prime example of this empowerment as anyone can tap into the Internet’s readily available and free information–a.k.a. open source information through websites such as YouTube, GoogleMaps, Reddit–to expose issues that would otherwise be ignored. We consumers of the Internet are no longer left in the dark waiting to be fed breaking news through traditional news outlets. Instead we are able to reverse engineer the global media landscape: anyone can use open source informantion at their disposal to uncover the news.
The recent crash of MH17 over east Ukraine illustrates the crucial need for individuals to collaborate and piece together open source information to find answers on their own. Bellingcat, a site that unites the power of citizen investigative journalism, outlines how open source techniques were able to find the Buk missile launcher that allegedly shot down the passenger plane.
Eliot Higgins, pseudonym Brown Moses, is the founder of Bellingcat. Eliot is a laid-off government worker turned blogger turned weapons analysis expert and leading source of information on the conflict in Syria. He began his Brown Moses blog in March 2012, obsessively devoting himself to studying everything he could find online about the Syrian conflict. Unable to understand or speak Arabic, he focused on something purely visual: weapons. Without any formal training, he is now one of the most highly praised citizen investigative journalists in the world—a “Rocket Man” who breaks war stories from his couch.
Eliot is raising funds the way he knows best—through sourcing the crowd through crowdfunding. The intersection of open source information and crowdsourcing fascinates me in how they are both driven by forums that encourage transparency, verifiability, and active participation of the online community. This innovation does not come from large, structured establishments, rather the power of a single person who builds knowledge, wealth, and power through social networks and the power of information.
As the rise of the Internet continues to advance exponentially, it’s an exciting time to be caught in the middle of this web and witness the growth of these two fields take off.