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.
It has a vast new subject matter in the personal, corporate, and government information that has migrated to the social web.
But in many instances, citizen journalism is something like the more troubling idea of citizen policing — that is, vigilantism: taking the powerful, and even dangerous tools of journalism to the communities with the least responsible actors.
This same acknowledgement — that the media no longer owns the story — has simultaneously provided momentum to the internet's growing legion of amateur detectives and uncredentialed investigative reporters.
They're players in nearly ever major internet scandal of 2014: the online manhunt for Bryan Hamade, the man believed to have leaked Jennifer Lawrence's nude photos and sparked "The Fappening"; the sexual-harassing, doxxing, ethics crusading online Hydra behind Gamer Gate; the cold-case internet sleuthing inside the Serial podcast subreddit (which had 24,943 subscribers as of this writing); and, most recently, the troubling outing of the alleged victim behind Rolling Stone's now-bungled UVA campus rape story by a former writer turned internet troll.
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.
The internet's uncanny ability to add fuel to the fire of our cultural obsessions no doubt plays a role as well.
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.
The tragedy at Sandy Hook in late 2012 spawned numerous message board threads — some helpful, some heinous — to try to cover the mass shooting.
The most infamous example came in April 2013 when the r/findbostonbombers subreddit launched an exhaustive and reckless manhunt that resulted in the spread of damaging misinformation that soon found its way to the New York Post's front page.