Citizen journalism, often seen as a more democratic form of journalism where the public contributes to the reporting, analysis and dissemination of news, sometimes leads to outright cyber bullying, warns a study.
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Citizen journalism allows the ordinary citizens to witness events, document them on their mobile phones and share them on social media.
It has also become an increasingly important news source that often sets the tone of how an event is perceived by the world, the study said.
"Common within this type of citizen journalism is that it is perceived as truth to at least the same extent as ordinary journalism," said sociologist and criminologist Agneta Mallen from Lund University in Sweden.
The credibility of the video is often enhanced by poor film quality and shaky image, thus allowing the viewers to become less critical of the source.
"Another problem with citizen journalism is that it opens the door to cyber bullying," Mallen noted.
In a study, she analyzed a video clip that circulated a few years ago under the name "Crazy Granny", which shows an elderly woman who looks as if she is trying to sneak away without paying for her taxi fare.
The clip has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, and in hundreds of comments the woman is defamed and ridiculed.
"The comments against the old lady were extremely harsh. Many of them were sexist and encouraged violence. Furthermore, from the comments it was possible to determine the woman's identity and address," Mallen noted.
She read the taxi driver's police report against the woman and got a completely different story than the one told in the video clip.
It turned out that the woman was not at all trying to avoid paying for her taxi fare, but rather the conflict was about her accidentally spilling on the seat of the taxi, and the fact that the driver wanted her to pay damages before letting her leave.
The police classified it as an accident and immediately closed the preliminary investigation.
"But the damage was already done. The woman was humiliated in a massive cyber bullying campaign and never received any redress. She was also subjected to a virtual punishment for something she did not do," rued the researchers.
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The study was published in the Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention.