There has been a long history of citizen journalism, from Zapruder filming the assassination of JFK, through the various videos taken on 9/11, to the multitudes of videos, taken on citizens personal phones mainly, of any variety of different scenes and happenings. Phone videos such as these have captured, and at times escalated the response to, shootings in America such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Browne. Footage of these incidents has arguably had a part in the growth of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. And while it is unclear of the long-term position of the citizen journalist, sites have begun to appear which aim to harness and amalgamate the potential of online amateur activists and content providers.
Take Bellingcat for example. Describing itself on its homepage as “by and for citizen investigative journalists, it is perhaps most famous for its analysis of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Bellingcat utilises social media and open source material to investigate its stories. When considering who shot down Flight 17, they were able to prove falsities in Russian claims that it was actually Ukranians who launched the missiles by sourcing satellite images and proving that images used in the Russian arguments were doctored using google images. Later in the year they released a 35 page report further refuting the Russian claims.
So what impact does collective citizen journalism like Bellingcat have on the dissemination of media? Probably very little, as it seems to be proven time and time again that when people find their news online they will believe what they choose to believe, regardless of facts or provenance of information. Everybody is happy to exist in their own ‘echo chamber’. However, long after major media outlets have moved on from the coverage of stories such as Flight 17, as recently as March 2 Bellingcat has continued publishing articles concerning this ‘old’ news. Bellingcat, not stuck to deadlines and operating with largely costless raw materials, is able to partake of long-term, time-consuming operations outside of the scope of more commercial mainstream counterparts.