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The Problem of Crowdsourcing - Part 1 - A Modern Form of Exploitation

Part 1 - Crowdsourcing - A Modern Form of Exploitation


"Every crowd has a silver lining." –P.T. Barnum 


    Crowdsourcing (which Merriam Webster defines as “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers”) is seen by many as a blessing bestowed on contemporary culture by digital media.  While the practice of crowdsourcing may have precursors stretching back to a time when primitive humans first sought assistance from their tribe, our new digital media technologies give us a social reach beyond our immediate community and allow for a near instantaneous response from hundreds, thousands and perhaps millions of people. With the internet leveraging our ability to communicate broadly and quickly, crowdsourcing has the capacity to deliver “services, ideas or content” from huge numbers of followers.  The “crowd” produced by this technology is more than a consuming audience to the crowdsourcing instigator(s). Instead, its members are partners and investors (minute 2:25 of  Their intellectual and material support of schemes hatched on the web and in social media - and the potential of that support to bring about social, political and/or cultural change  – is the basis for the lofty claims of crowdsourcing’s emancipatory power. 

    Although crowdsourcing through digital and internet-based media may have its roots in less technologically advanced consensus-building exercises such as standing on a soap box, we still don’t fully understand its social implications.  For example, crowdsourcing transforms individuals into a group, allying people unwittingly in collective enterprise. Once a crowd is formed, its numbers relegate the individual person to insignificance. Unregulated and without a prevailing code of conduct, crowdsourcing poses a threat to the lonely voices of dissent. The magnetism of the collective voice emanating from the crowd has the potential to obscure an individual’s rational thinking. In this lawless context, opportunists take more than they receive, capturing the “silver lining” presented by the crowd.  What follows is a brief a study of these darker aspects of crowdsourcing.



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