Social media, and the mobile technology that supports it, has given to millions of ordinary people around the world the ability to record, comment and share their experiences. YouTube’s human rights channel, its ‘CitizenTube’ channel, and the support on Twitter for the Iranian would-be revolution of 2009 are just a few reflections of this new force: citizen journalism.
This week sees the launch of a social media campaign by groups committed to freedom of speech in Afghanistan. Seeing the tools of social media as a way of allowing information to be distributed without bias, and outside the control of existing authorities in the country, the campaign hopes to raise awareness of social issues and allow accurate information to be collected and gathered.
Although internet access is still relatively rare in the country, due in part to previous moves to restrict access to content as well as the extremely difficult living conditions experienced, the organisers of the new social media campaign hope it will encourage many more ordinary Afghans of both sexes to access reliable information sources.
The continuing civil war in Syria has also proved to be a spur to citizen journalism, as did conflicts in other countries in the region before it. Just this week, new videos of victories in the fighting were posted to YouTube by the Free Syrian Army.
However, the use of such citizen-generated video and other content is proving to be a challenge to the traditional news media, which are both reliant on the uploaded reports to reveal what’s happening in areas their own journalists cannot visit, but which also need to verify the reports made to ensure accuracy and balance. Read this post from The Wall Blog for more details of the difficult judgements involved or this article about the processes of verification from the editor at Storyful.
Facebook, too, has provoked anger by mistakenly deleting a post about human rights abuses made by the free speech organisation, Article 19. Flagged by someone as ‘offensive’, the FB moderation team deleted the post before widespread fury alerted them to the wider context of the issue and the post was restored (read all about the sequence of events in All Facebook.)
Citizen journalism is clearly not only new, but growing and evolving. What is clear, is that social media is the right tool, available at the right time, for this wave of eye-witness content to have a real impact on our perceptions of people and places from all over the globe – and that’s a really exciting development for our understanding of world issues.
This post has also been published on the C4D network.