Crowdsourcing, is it beneficial or harmful?

Social media channels exist because users (individuals, companies, organizations, etc) continue to post, share, like, and interact with content. Each user is actively participating in sharing their photos, status updates, locations, likes and dislikes with the world, collectively creating content for others to consume. But at what cost?

Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life discusses this idea of crowdsourcing, “Because the sum of the contributions of a group so often exceeds the contribution that any one of few people could produce, crowdsourcing can yield astonishing innovation” (p. 73). Examples like GoFundMe, Wikipedia, and Kickstarter are great examples of crowdsourcing content and money for the collective benefit. With crowdsourcing, GoFundMe can raise money for a cause, Wikipedia had detailed content for users to consume, and Kickstarter backs new, innovative products for consumers. In these instances, groups are emerging and sharing in common goals. However, what happens when content is being crowdsourced for individual accounts?

Think about Instagram for a moment. Content is being published at an increasingly quick rate and users with large followings are aiming to publish “on trend” posts. I follow a lot of comedy accounts and many of these accounts have feeds that look like this (@beigecardigan).


Screenshot from the @beigecardigan Instagram account.

These accounts are sharing tweets or memes that other users created, published, and now this new account is getting the reward (the “likes”) for republishing it. The “credit” for the content is occasionally (but not always) included by keeping the Twitter username at the top of the post.  

Who is being exploited? Who is benefiting? Does it benefit the person who originally created the content? Maybe they are getting additional traffic to their page, but what if they are not credited? This type of content curation is clearly benefiting the owner of the account who is sharing other people’s original content. There is no need to be original – there’s already a world of entertaining content available at our fingertips.

And it’s not just individual social media users. Companies like Buzzfeed do the same thing regularly. For example, this article 23 Posts That Prove Millennials Really Are The Worst Generation is a collection of tumblr posts and tweets from individuals who commented on why millennials are the worst. Buzzfeed does credit the person (but you couldn’t tell if you weren’t looking, see red circle below). In this case, Buzzfeed is absolutely the one benefitting from this user content. By using other individual’s original content, they create an article, drive audiences to it from their social channels, and in turn advertisers pay them to post ads on their website.


Screenshot from Buzzfeed’s article:

So is this a problem? Or just part of the social media expectation? Chayco says, “Online attention can take the shape of a simple glance at a photo or a more active step: a like, a follow, a share, a comment. But attention is a two-way street. In exchange for accumulating likes and follows, it is generally expected that one will like and follow in return, though not necessarily an even one-to-one exchange” (p.76). Is this type of content sharing the clearly uneven one-to-one exchange Chayco discusses? Is having your original content shared in a Buzzfeed article enough of an acknowledgement to the user as it is a benefit to Buzzfeed?  

Posted on September 14, 2018, in Digital, mobile, Social Media, Technology, Trust. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. As someone who teaches students about plagiarism, this topic is getting increasingly more difficult. I’m beginning to wonder at what point we stop crediting images due to their availability on Google images.

    I wonder how many of that Buzzfeed article’s readers will look at the Tumbler credit and then go seek out the information? Admittedly, I never have.

  2. Hi Brittney,

    I think this a great discussion topic to explore further. The use of crowdsourcing is definitely one that’s gaining traction in many ways like you elude to with the examples provided such as GoFund Me and Wikipedia. Both of these sources allow individuals to contribute to the a larger group. By allowing individuals to contribute to a group setting this ensures that multiple perspectives are gained and the value of all resources are pooled together to help an organization, family or individual.

    The Go Fund Me source you reference reminds me of a recent event which happened in the Madison and Sun Prairie area in which a family lost their dad and husband to an emergency fire situation. The community came together and set up a Go Fund Me page to help support the wife and two daughters who survived the husband and dad in their lives. The support from the community was terrific and even NFL standout, JJ Watt, contributed to the fund being a Wisconsin native. So, when you say that these pages with communal activity tend to gain a higher level of support and traction I would concur with you.

    However, when used across social media as parody accounts or similar to the examples on Instagram, in which you show, you raise a great point about who’s benefitting. It seems many of these social media accounts keep popping up all over the place and it is true that many of the posts, sayings, comments and memes are re purposed through other accounts. With this it’s not uncommon for me to see the same post from multiple accounts in the same day or even multiple times per week. Do you think the original poster should be getting the credit? or who do you think should be credited for these posts? I do find this to be challenging in a way to track since much of the content can be difficult trace all the way back to the original post.

    Great post and reflection.

    – Kim

    • Kim,

      You raise a great question about who should be getting credit. It’s difficult to narrow down the original source since so many accounts are re purposing the content. Similar to your experience, I will also see the same post from multiple accounts in a day or a week. It’s difficult because the apps have plagiarism rules on their accounts, but those rules aren’t strictly enforced – or if they are it happens days/weeks after the post has already gone viral. As social media becomes ever more present in our daily lives, I think it’s going to be critical for companies to have more enforcers managing content. What this will ultimately look like, I’m not sure – but it seems like it’s going to be difficult to change without enforcement.


  3. Wow, such an interesting connection to plagiarism and copyright that I hadn’t considered before. I’ve more often thought about privacy issues with this kind of social media content because I’ve seen more instances of companies” searching, scanning, storing and repurposing these images to draw insights for big-brand advertisers.” See although it is from 2014 and perhaps things have changed to protect users?

    Don’t judge me, but I’ve become a follower of various Kardashian podcasts and their hosts’ accompanying Instagram accounts. [I’m fascinated by the way this family has taken over the E! network and seemingly continue to make millions by doing very little. I’m also confused as to why they still have a reality tv show when each sister has various social media accounts that keep people up to date on their daily activities. The tv shows, by comparison, air content months after the fact!?!?] Now, the podcast hosts I mention are quick to critique the various reasons Kim, make headlines. See the two posts below for recent examples, but I think a point that is continually brought up with this family is their use of others’ ideas/concepts without giving them credit. Even when it might be a stretch to accuse them, because of who they are everything they do will be scrutinized and subsequently make headlines.

    View this post on Instagram

    In spite of my own #intellectualproperty woes with a more powerful meme account, I don’t really side-eye this particular case of creative theft (which apparently @parishilton is upset about). Why? The old-money #bitchyblonde persona perpetuated by Paris always put me off and I’m glad the days of glorifying that vibe are behind us. #theorythursday!! There was a time, long ago, when Kim was not yet outrageously, relentlessly appropriative, and in fact was somewhat authentically ethnically ambiguous. I remember being in high school – dealing with my own #meangirls – and seeing a photo of Kim trailing after Paris and wondering if she was Arab. Turns out not technically, but for a girl of middle eastern descent with no public role models, I appreciated the semi-visibility and empathized with Kim’s obvious desperation to fit into the #newmillennium Hollywood mold. Paris always seemed to exploit the notion that Kim was second best. One day I’ll write about the strange grey area that Arab identity occupies (and about the kardashians' eventual development of compulsions to appropriate), but for now I’ll say that despite their many problems, the #kardashians have sustained a certain poise, intentionality, commitment to evolution, and gratitude to the public that Paris – in her hyper-enabled entitlement – lacked. So to see an insecure young woman going from organizing her famously snide friend’s closets and being pushed aside during photo ops…to everything @kimkardashian is today…satisfies me immensely. Also Paris took this look from #sammendes anyway, plus any #underdog story is a pleasure, and btw abusive friendships are trash no matter the pseudo-identity politics

    A post shared by @ kardashian_kolloquium on

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.