From the events of the Arab Spring (especially in Egypt) to the Occupy movements, last year it became more than obvious that spreading the news through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, can be more efficient than relying on regular journalists.
When a huge number of people have the ability to publish what they have seen and their opinions on them, their collective knowledge is a great deal more thorough than that of individual journalists. Furthermore, when events happen in places which journalists have no access to, or so quickly that they miss it, it is only the people who were there at the time who can truly know what happened.
But how exactly do peoples’ voices get to be heard?
The most obvious cases of social media as a news source came during mass movements, such as Egypt’s revolution. During the revolution, news of what was happening was essential if enough people were to know that the protests were going forward and when the protesters had planned to congregate. This knowledge was particularly important because the protesters needed to know about laws which had been passed by the Egyptian government in order to prevent protest, and so take restrictions such as standing five meters apart.
One of the best and quickest ways for this news to travel was on Facebook. Facebook was by no means the cause of the Egyptian Revolution; however, it was the easiest and most risk-free place for Egyptian citizens to discuss their dissatisfaction with the regime.
At a time when there was particularly strong discontent with the regime, after the death of Khaled Said in police custody, a page was set up entitled ‘We Are All Khaled Said’. Said page then operated as a center for unrest, becoming the place where the first of the Egyptian protests were organized.
Facebook was ideal for this sort of news-spreading; in an atmosphere where criticizing the government might well have been punished, the initiators and participants on ‘We Are All Khaled Said’ could remain anonymous, and when action had been taken against the government, anyone on facebook could find out about it.
Of course, journalism is not normally used to rally people to protest against harsh regimes – more usually, it is simply to tell readers what is happening in the world (the country, the town…). Twitter, an excellent tool for telling your personal followers what you are up to and what you think about it, is now in a perfect place for serving exactly such a purpose. And this is also where Twitter becomes the most social a social medium it can be, as your comments on Twitter alone are not enough to give people the full picture.
Enter Storify. Storify is a new site on which editors – anyone signed onto the site, in fact – search Twitter for Tweets on any given topic. For instance, during the Occupy Wall Street movement, Ben Doernburg, an American college student (not majoring in journalism) made a Storify by combining a number of different tweets to tell a coherent story of what was happening on Wall Street. As the police had banned professional journalists from areas of Wall Street at the time, this was the main source of news and Doernburg’s work was used by Washington Post.
What happens to Journalism now?
Journalism as a profession is probably not going to disappear, and almost certainly not overnight. However, there is now a definite shift occurring in the definition of who is a journalist and who isn’t, and how much attention gets paid to those who are not professionals. For example, the BBC now have a desk dedicated to searching for material on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, which seeks especially to find out where reporting is accurate. This means that, when it is, it can become an important part of the BBC’s reports on any topic.
Anyone can be a journalist now, and this means that far more perspectives are being heard and the media is freer. However, the price for this may be having to look at news sources more critically, just to be sure that the information you are getting is accurate.
Aaron Charlie writes for Silicon Beach Training whose social media workshops are popular with upcoming journalists and writers who want to spread their reach to new audiences outside of traditional medias.