The Internet in general has been a constant source of new opportunity throughout essentially all functional processes. The reason for this was summed up perfectly by Peter Dahlgren:
“An important attribute of the net (broadly understood) is its capacity to facilitate horizontal, or civic communication: people and organizations can link up with each other for purposes of sharing information, providing mutual support, organizing, mobilizing, or solidifying collective identities.”
This attribute of the Internet, allowing people to communicate in new, previously unsought of ways has spawned a global revolution of sorts. This is particularly true when discussing the concepts of citizen journalism and/or social activism. Prior to the Internet, specifically before the Internet was widely available and it was common for everyone and their mother to be using it, citizen journalism was generally impossible to be broadcast to a wide audience. There are only so many people you can transmit your message to through such mediums as public access TV, AM radio, and self-printed newspapers, among other relatively attainable “old-fashion” citizen journalism methods. Now that it is possible for citizen journalism to be shared easily to a wide audience throughout online mediums such as various social media outlets, such as Facebook and twitter.
Expanding off of this new ability for the citizen journalist, of their voice finally having a chance to be heard by the masses, come a variety of opportunities. Alfred Hermida summarizes all this quite nicely:
“Digital media technologies such as Twitter facilitate the instant, online dissemination and reception of short fragments of information from sources outside the formal structures of journalism. Open, networked digital media tools challenge the individualistic, top-down ideology of traditional journalism (Deuze, 2008), while services like Twitter question a news culture based on individual expert systems over knowledge-sharing”
Twitter, as a medium for public expression, should not be underestimated. Through its ease of use, and broadcast range it can be an extremely effective tool for the citizen journalist. By March 2011, an average of 140 million daily messages were circulating on Twitter (Twitter, 2011). This volume of users is impossible to ignore, and is changing not just citizen journalism, but journalism as a whole. Citizen journalists are now able to challenge big media in an attempt to broadcast what they think is right, without filters. Alfred Hermida again made a great point when he said this:
“The role of journalists as professionals who decide all the news that’s fit to print is under pressure. Schudson and Anderson note that ‘‘in an era of cellphone, camera phone and blog, jurisdictional questions will be legion’’ (2009, p. 98). They note that bloggers now receive press credentials, though they were once considered as trespassers by mainstream journalists.”
This has led to such events as the “Twitter/Facebook revolution” in Tunisia and Egypt. Through citizen journalism and social activism utilizing social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook, the world was made aware of problems occurring in these countries. With this new knowledge the Internet connected world moved for changes. Governments were petitioned, and social media was used to encourage protestors and to set up protests for people directly involved. In the end legitimate revolutions occurred, directly as a result from the social media used. However, the social media aspect also proved as a hindrance in a different way. Peter Dahlgren summarizes this:
“We must avoid reductionist thinking that seeks technological fixes for societal ills; policy discourses and journalistic commentary at times lead us astray in this regard, for example when the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt become simplistically framed as ‘Facebook revolutions’.”
Due to the uprisings being spread through social media, it seems that many people misunderstood the severity of the situation. They were not involved directly, and only truly connected to the situation through their Facebook or twitter account. There was no danger to themselves or others close to them so they didn’t really understand the true urgency of what they were trying to accomplish. As similar events occur in the future, there is no doubt similar reactions will be had and methods must be found to counter this.
As far as these new opportunities afforded through social media encouraging myself to participate more directly in citizen journalism and social activism, it honestly has not made much of a difference. I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon for helping out random internet causes, such as the recent “Kony 2012” rising, that proved to be really more of a scam than anything as invisible children was only using 31% of their proceeds to actually help the kids affected. What did change for me however was the availability of low effort causes such as petitions that are now easily accessible to me. If the end goal of these causes resonates with me, I will go out of my way to give my signature to try and help. Other than that, as far as actually becoming a journalist on social media, I really don’t have any interest to do so.