As a result, these investigations seem to grow increasingly conspiratorial and reckless.They've adopted their own aesthetic that Sam Biddle at Gawker recently coined as "Chart Brut," a "simple, unrefined, urgent, ominous, striving to be informative, and utterly incomprehensible...digital middle-ground between the string-and-thumbtack cork-board flowcharts favored by premium-cable obsessives like Rust Cohle and Carrie Mathison, and the meaningless tangles of agency responsibilities beloved by security-apparatus bureaucrats, and it's emerged as the defining folk aesthetic of the 2014 internet." This style perfectly describes the investigative phenomenon that gave it life: It's often childish, convoluted, at times impressive, slipshod, obsessive, and slightly frightening.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.Roughly 30 months later, the paradigm seems to have shifted.The rise of the vigilante investigation now seems undergirded by the internet-utopian idea that any and all information should be free and that those with the digital means to procure that information should be compelled to expose it.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.
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.Working fast, but carefully, Jones found a Reddit post from a user who'd been shot that night and had posted a photo of his wounds, beating local and national media to the story hour after hour.In the hours and days after Aurora, media reporters — myself included — spoke to Jones and Reddit about this seemingly new style of citizen journalism, fueled by social media and aided by an intimate familiarity with news cycles and the internet.Jones was by no means the first citizen journalist to use an online platform to elevate his voice and contribute reporting to scoop legacy media (similar news-gathering Reddit threads existed far before Jones'), but the high visibility of Jones' thread, coupled with the fact that his careful work turned up few hoaxes and spread credible information, seems to mark a turning point for internet-based citizen news gathering.
Since Jones' thread, this online behavior has metastasized through social news sites like Reddit and online anonymous message boards like 4chan.
More traditional media pundits blustered (somewhat rightly) about the dangers of news gathering from nonprofessional sources; outlets that reported on the Adult Friend Finder profile did not credit Jones or Reddit.