Brought to us by Manhunt director Greg Barker and Man on Wire producer Simon Chinn, The Thread begins with Kevin walking us through the streets of Boston on a quiet night in the City of Champions. Where it goes next you will find difficult to believe.
On the particular day in question, April 15 2013, 26,839 people from all over the world came together to run the 117th Boston Marathon. At 14.49pm cheers sharpened to screams as a bomb exploded in the crowd killing three and injuring more than 250, as exhausted runners looked on.
The Thread takes this atrocity for the beginning of its fascinating, disturbing and gasp-inducing story. Whilst the press had their copy ready for print, the winner having crossed the line at 14:08pm, it was those armed with smart phones, Twitter handles, Facebook profiles and first hand accounts that broke the news in a way that would change the face of journalism forever.
When an unexpected event such as the Boston bombings happens, there is a window during which journalists are scrambling to reach the scene. Whilst before this meant a period during which absentees had no information, it now means that we can find out in Australia what is happening in Boston even though CNN haven’t got there yet. But there is one catch: the information comes courtesy of whichever informative members of public happen to be at the scene. We have, in a sense, a public free-for-all.
The Thread offers a rare glimpse into the future of journalism, providing us with a bird’s-eye-view of the ramifications of this new public free-for-all and a warning of the tragic potential of this technological wildfire.
Presenting a balance of sources, from Gavon Laessig (now deputy news director and front page editor at Buzzfeed News) to Chris Ryves, an aspiring screenwriter, this documentary gives a rounded, day-by-day account of the aftermath of the Boston bombings as it took place online.
You see, what you probably didn’t know is that reeling from this latest act of terrorism and desperate for justice to be served, the online community decided to help find the perpetrators. This is where Chris Ryves comes in because he became involved in moderating sub-reddit: /r/FindBostonBombers on news and social networking website reddit. What happens next? Watch the documentary, but simply put, the public ‘turns Batman’ and all of a sudden the FBI are being given a run for their money by eagle-eyed citizens.
For those online, the ability to collate footage, eyewitness accounts and images meant that the sub-reddit became a worldwide incident room with mind-boggling potential. As reddit’s ex-General Manager, Erik Martin puts it in the film: “[reddit is] the closest we’ve got to hearing everyone thinking out loud.”
Cue a torrent of accusations, unverified conclusions and just about all the ingredients of a public witchhunt you can imagine. Without giving the game away, The Thread manages to leave you proud and disgusted with your fellow internet users all at the same time.
It also prompts some pretty interesting questions as well: Do we no longer trust our news providers? Are we becoming a society that publishes because we want to verify truth rather than to proclaim pre-established truths? Can the public ‘do news’ better? And even more worryingly, do we need the press to distinguish fact from fiction on our behalf? We see how people want to feel connected, involved and speak without needing permission but as The Thread shows, the flipside of this can be a terrible human cost.
Mixed brilliantly with footage from the bombing, comments from those involved in its reporting and scenes from the manhunt which followed, The Thread is a clear choice for journalists and techies alike. But with its investigative feel and careful unfurling of events this is a fantastic documentary with the ability to leave everyone intrigued, surprised and shocked in equal measure.
One last question: Is this new technological presence a dark opponent of journalism or the gateway to a shared pursuit of the truth? Watch The Thread and decide for yourself…
Review by Georgina Pollard
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The Thread is released on download and on demand on 13 April.