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Crowdsourcing and Social Media: Their Real Impact

Crowdsourcing and Social Media: Their Real Impact
By Sharon Housley

It seems that our society is growing ever more dependent on social media; more and more people are joining social networking giants such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and more such websites and applications are springing up to meet the rising demand for them. As society and culture continue this turn towards technology, so do the operations of society, especially through crowdsourcing. A powerful tool, crowdsourcing does much good, but has also caused a number of problems. In such a situation, one must ask: do the benefits of crowdsourcing really outweigh the risks


By placing trust in the masses, crowdsourcing has proven a useful tool. As of late, many searches for missing people have evolved from the more primitive crowdsourcing of magazines and posters and have moved to social media. Details about many missing people and their cases are frequently posted on websites like Facebook, Reddit, and Tumblr. In the case of Reddit, several subcommunities, called subreddits, are often employed in each search, and users of the site respond with support and sometimes additional information or reports of sightings. By expanding the audience and heightening the efficiency of these efforts, social media can make searches for missing people more effective as well as provide a larger support network for those searching.

Crowdsourcing's power to help people does not stop with searches for missing people. This idea is exemplified by the response of social media to the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013. In the days following the bombings, Reddit enjoyed huge readership as its users both worked to identify the bombers through crowdsourcing and posted frequent, accurate, and very current updates of the hunt for the bombers and its surrounding events. In doing this, social media contributed to the important identification of the bombers and helped protect the safety of those living in or near Boston in the bombing's aftermath.


The power of crowds is immense. While this allows for many benefits and positive uses of mass media, it also makes problems inevitable in a society that relies so heavily on such media. The effects of this double-edged sword can be observed in the online response to the Boston Marathon bombings. While crowdsourcing through social media proved helpful at this time, it also led to the mistaken naming of Sunil Tripathi, later proven to be an innocent Brown student who had been missing for a month prior to the bombing, as a prime suspect. Tripathi undeservedly received so much negative attention that his name was a top trend on Twitter, and never had the opportunity to comment on the affair or defend himself.

More prevalent than the harm online crowdsourcing can cause is perhaps its potential for failure. While online crowdsourcing is popularly used in cases such as those of missing people, the question of its relative efficacy at this task must be raised. While much of the search for missing people has moved to social media, there does not appear to be significantly more success in finding missing people from online crowdsourcing than there is from posters, magazine ads, and other earlier methods of outreach. In other words, crowdsourcing through social media may simply not be as enormously effective as we hope.

The variety of consequences (and the lack thereof) of crowdsourcing through social media leaves the task of assessing it complicated, at best. Though this can make a discussion of crowdsourcing difficult, the ever-growing presence in our lives of crowdsourcing and the social media upon which it relies makes such discussions important. The verdict remains for each person to establish for themselves.


About the Author:
Sharon Housley manages marketing for NotePage, Inc. http://www.notepage.net , FeedForAll http://www.feedforall.com software for creating, editing, publishing RSS feeds and podcasts. In addition Sharon manages marketing for RecordForAll http://www.recordforall.com audio recording and editing software.

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This article may be used freely in opt-in publications and websites, provided that the resource box is included and the links are active. A courtesy copy of the issue or a link to any online posting would be greatly appreciated send an email to sharon@notepage.net .

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