In the last 5 years there has been a dramatic rise in online social media usage. Not just for mild posts on what someone had for lunch but also more important information such as details during political revolutions and crowd sourced information in criminal cases. The development of specifically non mainstream media based journalism specifically by non journalists has given rise to the term Citizen journalism, referring to regular people, not employed by newspapers or news programs to source stories, investigating and broadcasting information.
Citizen Journalists on the Backs of Blue Birds
Following the April 2013 Boston Bombings, a reported 8 million tweets relevant to the incident were generated by 3.7 million people. An incredible amount of user generated content towards citizen journalism but the question is how effective is it as a journalism practice? I terms of content aggregation, twitter works wonders. information was retweeted up to thirty thousand times, potentially reaching a great number of people, on the other hand a supposed 29% of the tweets surrounding the Boston Bombings were fake or mere rumors. Serena Carpenter points out “Controversy exists because it is assumed that some citizen journalists produce content without traditional journalistic values in mind“, This is a great comment as it explains how so many of the tweets around the Boston bombings were false. When so many people share content with little to no regard for journalistic ethics, inconsistency is to be expected.
regardless of it’s amateurism and unreliability, I argue that social media sites such as twitter still hold a vital role in today’s mass information spread not as a one stop news source for truth but instead solely as a crowd sourced information aggregation system. In 1947 The Hutchinson’s commission for free press identified five requirements for free and responsible press including, “The media should serve as a forum for the exchange of comment and criticism” and “The media should provide full access to the day’s intelligence” two aspects twitter handles well. Twitter thrives as a platform for the fair exchange of opinion and criticism and is accessible by anyone allowing for full access to the plethora of articles being shared and linked daily.
This week I was introduced to the simile, “the sum total of those tweets added up to something truly substantive, like a suspension bridge made of pebbles” (Johnson, 2009), What I think Johnson is saying here is that twitter has power due to it’s sheer number of users and the volumes of content generated daily but I would like to add to this by saying the bridge may hold it’s own made of pebbles but I wouldn’t rely on any specific pebble especially when you don’t know where it came from or why it’s there. For information gathering crowd sourcing is effective quantitatively but fails when it comes to reliable quality.
Johnson, S 2009, ‘How Twitter will change the way we live’, Time Magazine, June 5