“The Citizen News Network, the Postmodern Panopticon…”

Colby Cosh, the Menckenesque commentator, blogger, and columnist for Canada’s National Post, has a nice—and Meckenesque—piece on the subject of crowdsourcing. “The citizen news network, the postmodern panopticon, is still spreading and growing more powerful,” Cosh writes.

The last holdouts are acquiring camera phones and self-contained digital cameras; data storage is getting cheaper. The next time some mistreated immigrant starts freaking out and breathing heavy in an airport, there might not be one guy with a camera on the scene: it might be five, or 10, or 20. Which would make police suppression of video evidence impossible in principle, rather than merely difficult.

Most interesting, to my mind, is the piece’s kicker: an implicit comparison between the infrastructural forces of the Web—the new technologies that have built our digitalized panopticon—and the political forces of authoritarian government. They lead, Cosh suggests, to the same result:

I think the future of our “journalism” has already arrived in China. It has become routine there for official scandals, physical catastrophes, and so-called “mass incidents” to be chronicled and investigated in an amazingly decentralized, distributed way. The Chinese people know they cannot count on the big, licensed media organs to do the work. The news there is now driven by “human search engines” — anonymous internet users gathering information collectively, running roughshod over both personal privacy and official barriers as they do it. Rumours spread fast, but are fact-checked fast. It’s an incredibly out-of-control process that has disturbing elements, but is certainly leading to increased moral accountability and transparency. If it can work in a one-party state, it will work here.

[via Jay Rosen]

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.