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History is written by everyone

I’ve taken the boys to the ancestral lands for a week. Finland is as ever – green, quiet, everything sparsely. This time my eye has been drawn to graffiti and stickers. Here’s a few that I took a picture of:

I’m reading We Are Bellingcat and am quite excited by it. I wasn’t expecting a philosophy, but the author and founder of the Bellingcat group, Eliot Higgins, has one to share – one of information democracy.

He started out as a bored office worker who developed an interest in finding out more information about current events than was available from the usual news sources through online sleuthing. He recounts his surprise at how much he could find that traditional sources either didn’t know how to find or didn’t have the resources to look for. He talks about how the journalism of old was based on proximity to power – relationships with politicians, deep-throat characters with inside knowledge and so on – but the internet and its multitude of information uploaded by people in the midst of emerging events is changing that.

Instead of relying on practices like hacking people’s voicemails, the contributors to these online open-source investigations use only above-board, publicly accessible and verifiable information. He says of one of his colleagues:

Newspapers … cultivated confidential sources and wielded influence to extract what they wanted. By contrast [my colleague] wanted no glory and held no sway. ‘If someone heard a tip from an insider, I wasn’t going to use it,’ she recalled. ‘There were other people who had contacts and leads and moles, and that’s not me.’

It seems that the secret-sources stuff also has its uses, but what a leap forward to have so much information available out there for anyone to find.

This also seems an important insight:

History [is] no longer written by the victors alone. The defeated, the passer-by, the neighbour – they [have] smartphones too.

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