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Social Media as Outlets for Commentary, Change and Power: The Role of the Up and Coming Citizen Journalist

Social media is the platform in which many people are updated on current events, new products, A collection of social media logos on computer keysfriends lives, etc. there has been a creation of a sense of connectedness that was never so ever-present before. This connectedness is not only in regards to others in one’s physical world, but also towards those who are far in distance, and even towards celebrities who one would never even manage to get in contact with, and corporations who use social media as tactics for public relations and advertising. The way in which people interact, collaborate and share has reached new complexities that one could never have predicted. The internet platform is open to all sorts of comments and opinions and can essentially enforce change and justice; all dependent on the power and feelings stemming from its users.

Social Media as Outlets for Commentary

Due to the ever-growing social media platforms in which people can offer their immediate reactions and opinions, there is a trend towards a culture of commentary on everyday aspects of life. According to an interview by Huffington Post with Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, he cites his joys of being a people person as the inspiration for the platform. In addition he states,

“I found out that the thing I like most — the thing that I like to do the most is help other people. That just gives me joy. And, you know, you could say that with Twitter I was helping people have freedom of expression.”

xv8tW5BFreedom of expression is essentially the atmosphere and environment enforced and provided by social media which allows people to feel safe and confident within their own opinions and comments. This security coupled with the lack of physical presence is just the right mix of conditions for a platform which allows for optimum social commentary. The term “social media” in and of itself is defined as a platform for social interaction. It involves participatory behavior and demands commentary in the most safe and non judgmental way. The purpose is for media and news to be talked about, referenced, questioned and shared. Social media in this way is an educational environment that demands reflection and debate. 

Becoming a Citizen Journalist and the Role Within Traditional Journalism 

Once a user begins to comment frequently, they build a sense of online presence and entitlement. This can be tracked by growing amounts of followers, likes, shares, friends, etc. across the various platforms. The sense of entitlement and widespread presence allows for users to feel like they know what they are talking about and further their engagement in online commentary, sharing and offering of opinions on different levels of life that grow from minimal aspects of everyday life to eventually criticism and reporting of national and worldly events. This is then tied to the idea of citizen journalism. According to professor Jay Rosen at NYU,

“Citizen journalism is when the people formerly known as the audience use the press tools in their possession”

The definition itself implies that a new set of journalists have entered the realm of commentary, which allows for faster, more realistic, variedly unbiased and all together more news and reporting to be shared via the internet and its many capabilities and outlets. An opinion article by an author named Quigley delves deeper into the changing dynamics of journalism as well as the new expectations that ariseCJ1 from audiences. First, Quigley explains how from the journalists perspective, social media in fact offers new levels of instant feedback from audiences and resources which were never available before. He uses himself as an example in regards to his role in social media to interact with readers and create a relationship that goes beyond simply knowing his name via the top of an article. Further, Quigley points at the newfound expectation of the audience to engage in conversation. Just reading an article is no longer enough; there needs to be room for conversation, opinion, and feedback all in real-time for the satisfaction of the audience. And these efforts do not go unnoticed. He states that it is common for companies to use user photos and comment back when it seems necessary or prevalent to a story. In this way it seems like there is a constant conversation between journalist and audience that caters to audience concerns and perspective. He ends the article by saying that in no way is traditional journalism on its way to being extinct for there is always a need for someone of more distinct recognition to clear up rumors and address issues amongst the many conversations happening throughout social media.

Citizen journalism is becoming more and more important for it offers a more efficient look into unbiased news reporting. It allows for internet users to find out their news across the board from different yet favored users. It may challenge the traditional journalists’ playing field but it is merely keeping up with the rapid changing outcomes of growing social media and online presence. It is an amateur take on news reporting that leaves room for error and false information; yet, it offers a chance for users to find news that caters to their likings and viewpoints.

There’s an App For That

With the growing trend to self-report, it is no surprise that there are new growing shifts that aid with the idea of citizen jourGuardian-Witness-595x328nalism. For example, the website and mobile app entitled “Guardian Witness” allows for users to upload comments and photos to any topic on the site. For example, there is a board dedicated to the comments, opinions and stories on recent gay marriage legalization in England. The comments that follow are all testaments from recently married partners who share their stories and challenges with gay marriage. Though a fine example of citizen journalism, there are also restrictions since all comments are monitored and checked before being uploaded. However, it is a straightforward example of the need people have to observe and reflect on current events as well as offer testimony and opinion.

Another site which offers almost an opposite effect to citizen journalism is “rbutr”The websites home pages states,

“rbutr is a community driven app which creates links between webpages where the content of one page is a rebuttal against the other. The content may be directly arguing against the original content, or generally presenting contradictory evidence….rbutr aims to facilitate inter-website debate, guide users to rebuttals of dubious information, and indirectly influence our users so that they approach all online information with an increased level of skepticism and critical appraisal.”

This site highlights the constant opinion infused battle that occurs when people from essentially all over the world are put onto one platform to comment on one particular topic or event. It leads to challenges over definitions, explanations, problem-solving, etc.

Collaborations As A Force to be Reckoned With: A Call For Change

Social media and all its capabilities can also lead to bigger changes for social good. Since the internet provides an easier than ever way to communicate and find people who share common and similar interests and beliefs, it is no surprise that these users essentially find each other and call for action on topics that they deeply believe are in need of change. In finding these users, a relationship is built on a specific purpose and cause that can drive an online persona and define a social media presence. 

social-media-mega-phone-250x171One significant article I found that called for specific change was an article by the New York Times regarding using social media as a megaphone when it comes to processed foods that may be harmful to our bodies. A woman named Renee Shutters felt strongly about the dangerous dyes found in candy bars and following her pursuit for change, turned to social media to rally others who believed in the cause. She called on her internet supporters to engage in petitions and social media conversations with the companies who used harmful dyes in their food processing. The article hints at the way companies switched from relying on feedback from a single press release on an issue, to turning to feedback given by social media users in regards to their products. This change in feedback analysis allowed for an even greater sense of how big the issue was getting and how their specific brand was being effected by the citizen testimonies and opinionated press.

Some of the changes occurring with audience feedback are noted by Matthew Egol from a consulting firm that deals with many of the companies in question. He states,

“companies were approaching the negative feedback they get with new tools that help them assess the risks posed by consumer criticism. Instead of relying on a P.R. firm, you have analytical tools to quantify how big an issue s and how rapidly it’s spreading and how influential the people hollering are. Then you can make a decision about how to respond. It happens much more quickly.”

Though the efforts for change have not been as satisfactory as Mrs. Shutters would have liked, the changes are indeed happening. Companies now need to make sure to address user concerns with information on their products coupled with even more readily available negative product testaments and a focus on the brand in the social media limelight. There is no escape from the limelight and evident controversy. Companies now have a need to be able to react to audience concerns in rapid and efficient ways to appease to consumer fears and un satisfactions. 

When Citizen Journalism, Internet Collaborations and Social Media Calls For Change Take Action

It is evident that social media is powerful in making changes to even the biggest of companies, but this is also proven the case in global events and regarding international crises. In the light of citizen journalism being increasingly popular for reporting on current events, there are more and more calls for change were injustice is prevalent. An example of just a sample of the many activists who play the role of citizen and journalist, PBS put together an article of some of the most influential and news worthy twitters from across the world that report openly about the problems and realities of communities in danger. The goal is to inform and to hopefully each  those who might be inspired to come together and create change.

To reach a similar effect, in 2012, YouTube paired up with the Storyful and created a channel for human rights oriented videos solely based on the uploads from users and their content. YouTube in the creation of the channel states,

“Beyond protest footage, the channel will highlight topics such as police brutality, discrimination, elder abuse, gender-based violence, issues of socio-economic justice, access to resources and bullying. Videos will also be curated from non-profit organizations working in the human rights space….We hope this project can not only be a catalyst to awareness, but offer people new avenues for action and impact. The channel is committed to providing new citizen creators as well as viewers with the tools and information necessary so that every citizen can become a more effective human rights defender.”



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