Sub-Cognetivity

Exploring the global uses of social media.

Semester in Review: Citizen Journalism and Media Monopolization

In our book, The World News Prism, Hachten criticizes* citizen journalists as being untrained and unprofessional. He also wrote about the trends towards a media monopoly. I don’t quite agree with the evaluations or conclusions being made.

I have noticed a minor contradictory or conflicting view. Hachten worries* about media becoming monopolized, but somehow doesn’t think of how that might influence “professional” journalists. Don’t tell me for one minute that journalists aren’t motivated by certain agendas. Be they government pressures or corporate pressures.

Sure, citizen journalists can be bought too, but professional journalists are inherently tied to a centralized structure. Big corporations have agendas. These agendas are reflected in policy and in gatekeeper decision making processes.

Traditional outlets are monopolizing not because of a lack of regulation, as Hachten proposes*, but because of a failing business model. Conglomerates are formed out of desperation. Further regulations would only speed the downfall of smaller, struggling outlets. They are “monopolizing” to survive.

It’s easier to cash out and sell a failing business to a larger corporation than to compete with the internet, other local outlets and the larger firms. This brings me back to citizen journalism.

Frankly, there are many stories that would have never made it around the world by traditional means. Gatekeepers simply aren’t telling the stories that really need to be told. The strong demand for personalized news feeds and access to stories gives more reason for traditional outlets to provide content through widely available online means. But it’s up to them to compete with citizen journalists, or to find a way to integrate.

Billions of dollars flying around and they cannot brainstorm ways to use citizen journalists?

It’s easy to say “citizen” journalists aren’t trained professionals. But what about journalism students who want to be freelance or fail to find a job? These are in fact professional journalists. They simply don’t have editors and gatekeepers. I previously mentioned how social media enhances photojournalism.

People share and tweet causes they are passionate about. Causes can be widely endorsed and still be false, such as the Kony 2012 propaganda. “Newsworthy” material can be picked up by national and local stations, but turn out to be a hoax. Jimmy Kimmel anyone?

Despite what Hachten implies*, citizen journalism is here to stay. Again, he is worried about monopolies killing diversity in coverage, but shrugs off the most diverse sources for information. Citizen journalism will remain far into the future.

It will remain as long as mainstream organizations fail to provide accurate information or remain silent on clearly newsworthy material.

It will remain as long as they neglect reporting global news.

It will remain as long as governments prompt dissent.

It will remain as long as people have cameras, cell phones, computers and stories.

*His opinion isn’t explicitly stated, but more implicitly weaved into the writing, if he or Scotton care to dispute, comments section down below.

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Social Media for Dissent

This post ties more into the action part of the last post. As I mentioned, social media can only create a real change when people take some action. The most obvious example of active dissent is the ongoing Arab Spring, and now the events in Thailand.

Social media is an obvious tool for dissent. It allows users to broadcast current locations, plan events and quickly update other members of a situation. It helps active people to accomplish things in a way that texting, emailing or calling never could.

Dissent isn’t always widespread. A Kuwaiti teen was sent to prison for insulting the Prophet. In an Islamic nation, this would be considered small-scale dissent because of the theocratic government. If people in Kuwait wanted religious freedom, they would have to move beyond digital activism and into physical action as their sister nations did. This is not likely to happen in many of the theocratic nations.

Saudi Arabian women have used social media to protest laws against women driving. This provides a voice for women who aren’t normally allowed to congregate in public or meet with men not in their families.

In Thailand, protestors have been tweeting and Instagramming in the hundreds of thousands. ZocialEye.com, an analyst website, took snapshots of the events and reactions by dissenters. In response to an Amnesty bill, protestors changed their profile pictures. It would be hard to find anything beyond correlation with the actual protests. I think this may be a first for picture changes to actually make a difference. Har har.

Some governments even spam or flood social media feeds to prevent movements from being seen. This presents an issue in nations where dissenters rely on social media to communicate. Messages can be overpowered and lost in the flood.

In a way, mainstream media censored dissent in Chicago, 2012. Social media spread pictures and videos of thousands of protestors, but mainstream media largely neglected to show the scale. This American dissent was a step above the previous occupy movement, but received less attention.

The most important aspect of social media as a tool for dissent is the speed at which a post occurs and spreads. This makes it difficult for large, clunky, centralized governments to react and easy for small, organic, decentralized groups to organize.

I think social media will continue to play an important role in dissent not only against governments but also against mainstream media outlets. This is especially so when those outlets are part of an authoritarian model with government at the helm.

Citizen journalism is a form of rebellion against “professional” journalists. I hope to touch back on this later.

Social Media as a Tool for Change

People around the world use social media as a means voice opinions and effect change. Citizen journalism is one aspect of this, but I’m more strictly talking about the pressure generated by mass outcry.

Whenever something happens that a lot of people dislike, they take to social media to voice their opinions. If no physical actions are taken, it seems to end there: voiced opinions. I thought of and found a few examples of media outcry with differing results.

Twitter and Facebook were used heavily by protesters and rebels during the Arab Spring. People coordinated protests and conveyed intelligence. The pressure was large enough to tell people that they weren’t alone. This is an example where those voices turned into actions. Knowing how many people support the same ideas likely encourages people to take actions they wouldn’t normally take.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper voted to fund the NSA following the privacy violations and received an almost entirely social media response. The response only accomplished a story being written about the response. This is a low pressure example.

The Occupy movement was spurred by mass outcry which spread through social media. This is a more complex example. Voices turned to actions like the Arab Spring with people living in parks and occasionally taking to the streets. Initially, the pressure seemed to have been great. After all, people came outside and they gained a lot of mainstream attention, but in the end the pressure was not great enough to accomplish anything.

Many people credit the 2008 Obama campaign’s use of social media for his winning of the election. This may be an example of social media effecting change mixed with racism guiding votes. It’s really too hard to tell.

Social media also carries an interesting aspect known as the bystander effect. The bystander effect is where people do nothing because so many others claim they will. Francisco Dao notes this with a project by Brian Solis to raise money, more people shared the cause rather than donating. People seemed to feel that digital influence equated to real donations.

Dao lists 3 traits of the bystander effect:

  1. Ambiguity of need.
  2. Cohesiveness of a group.
  3. Option of diffusing responsibility.

People are more likely to take actions when they realize the need, share a strong bond with the issue and feel significant enough to make a difference. These points provide more invaluable information to anyone running a social media campaign. If the campaign cannot make people feel important enough or needed, it risks creating thousands of bystanders without any doers. I think users wishing to spark a movement will need to learn new ways to motivate people beyond likes and shares if they want to accomplish a real-world goal.

A small question turns into a massive blunder.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. bank tweeted on November 13 that the vice president would be answering twitter questions on the next day, November 14. It backfired.

What started as an effort to connect with Tweeters and offer advice turned into a firestorm of angry, hilarious and strange questions. News sites and blogs reacted to the situation with advice for JPM. People tweeted asking for houses back. Some wondered what the VP’s favorite type of whale was.

JP Morgan’s social media team aborted the Q&A within 8 hours of announcing it.

This isn’t the first time that a big company has blundered on Twitter. Some of the most common blunders are insensitive posts attempting to ride off a tragedy that weren’t thought through very well.

This massive blunder brings an interesting point to light: know your publics. JPM’s media team couldn’t have been unaware of the demonization that large banks have received in the recent years. However, they were unaware of the cruelty of the internet.


I’m not going to talk about how big a fail this was, that part is obvious. I want to focus more on preventative measures for blunders. It’s impossible to please everyone, but it is possible to avoid widespread negative attention.

I think social media teams need to be made up of a variety of people who are able to think on their feet- or fingers. Specialists should be well versed in pop culture, Internet culture, global cultures (if a global company). You should already know about negative attitudes toward your company. Here are tips on avoiding blunders:

-Consider the various publics who will receive their message and of many possible negative responses. Ask a 22-year-old if he or she thinks the message is cheesy.

-Have a 22-year-old (+/-5 years) on your team who understands the internet. He or she represents a large portion of Internet users.

-Consider the size and credibility of publics that dislike your organization. Is it a minor nuisance like PETA that is largely ignored by society at large or a large movement of tech savvy Occupiers?

-Messages should be tested, even if it means running out of the office and asking 10 people on the street. Do people understand the message? Ask them to rate it. Seek people that represent your supportive and supportive publics.

-Search for similar messages that have been posted and consider the sender of the message. Beloved celebrity? Charity organization? Hated MegaCorp? By 2013, there are enough case examples for teams to research.

Consider possible fire extinguishers if your post seems risky.

-If a post seems risky, don’t post it! Avoid tragic topics altogether unless you are saying something you would say to a family member of the tragedy. Clearly, “look at this phone,” is a bad idea. (AT&T self-plugging on 9/11)

-Be aware of existing themes that might be using the same hash tags. Aurora might be the name of your company’s new dress, but your dress isn’t the reason it’s trending.

-Be aware of cultures if you are primarily tweeting to a foreign public.

-Once it’s on the Internet, it stays on the internet forever.

Remember these things and you’ll be sure to avoid getting fired.

Social Media as a Drug.

I’ve already discussed social media in terms of impacting a social life. Overall, I found that that social media enhances existing personality traits. But what about social media as an addiction?

The American Psychological Association:

Addiction is a condition in which the body must have a drug to avoid physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Addiction’s first stage is dependence, during which the search for a drug dominates an individual’s life. An addict eventually develops tolerance, which forces the person to consume larger and larger doses of the drug to get the same effect.

Obviously social media cannot be a physical addiction on a drug, but the physiological feelings it gives people could be seen as addictive.

Perhaps you know someone who constantly checks their phones for Facebook notifications or sends pictures of all their meals to Instagram. The first thing these people do after waking up is grab their smartphones and check away. You might say these people are dependent on social media, that it “dominates” their lives. They have to get a social media fix, constantly.

TechAddiction’s research shows that 48 percent of 18-34-year-olds check Facebook right when they wake up and 28 percent check it on their phones before getting out of bead. Similar stats can be seen for Twitter.

TechAdditon has created a Facebook addiction test with questions such as:

1. I often spend too much time on Facebook – usually more than I originally intend.

9. My work or school performance has suffered due to too much Facebook use.

16. I often use Facebook to avoid other responsibilities (e.g., work, homework, housework, etc.).

11. I often spend hours at a time playing games on Facebook.

I’m sure many people answer ‘True’ to these questions. If someone answers true to more than 11 of these questions, they are considered to be at an obsessive and unhealthy level. Many people likely struggle with an addiction to social media websites.

Addictions to technology are not isolated to Americans. A 2006 report in China concluded that internet addictions among youth were a “severe social problem that could threaten the nation’s future.” A gamer in Taiwan was found dead in an Internet café and a 3-month-old Korean girl died from neglect while her parents spent hours in one.

I think that like alcoholism and gambling, social media use is thought to be harmless in moderations. It’s when people become dependent on social media that it really creates problems. I think increased usage could be seen as a level of tolerance, leading to the consumption of more social media.

While no official disorders seem to have been created for social media, Techaddiction.ca focus is on the general addiction to technology including Internet addiction disorder. If you or someone you know might be addicted to social media or the internet, I think this website could provide a helpful start for recovery.

Social Media’s impact on Photojournalism

Photojournalism is an important part of news. Social media has allowed photojournalism to bypass the many gatekeepers who decide what news is.

Photojournalism has always been of ethical concern. Images of crying, starving, burning and dead people have enraged people around the world. Internet penetration and increasing availability adds to the speed that photos can be viewed.

Social media provides a new recent platform of entry for aspiring photojournalists. PJs can post directly online and build their own following. Interested news sites can use the pictures in stories. If the PJ seeks a reward, they can watermark images and sell high-resolution photos privately. If PJs prefer to release full works for free for the sake of the message, they can crowd fund their efforts.

With social media, we know that anyone in the world can become a citizen journalist and start blogging. The same applies to photos, and often citizen journalism includes amateur photography. Some argue that social media turns ordinary users into photojournalists, but I know people with ‘training’ who would disagree.

The famous twitter photo of the plane in the Hudson River in 2009 was taken by an ordinary person. The picture was circulated around the web. Likewise, amateur photos and videos of 9/11 and the Boston marathon bombing made it online.

Nicole Bogart from Global News (globalnews.ca) says that professional photojournalism is on the decline while citizen photography increased. She sees a restructuring of news organizations to accommodate the changing landscapes. A Montreal crowd funded start-up, CrowdMedia.co, seeks to bring citizen photography into the mainstream by searching for, finding and sending requests to people in an area.

This raises concerns about quality of the photography and accuracy of the story. In class, we talked about the issues with news organizations getting the story fast, but not necessarily accurate. I think that these concerns are valid, but that citizen journalism isn’t the only place for blame.

Is it better to have a single story on a distant conflict? Or hundreds of photos from different sources with comparable stories? I think it’s better to have many stories competing for truth in the marketplace of ideas than the singular story that passes through a gatekeeper on a corporate dime.

I think social media provides the megaphone for important unheard voices ignored by modern infotainment news for too long. Social media will continue to play an important role is destroying and rebuilding what we consider news. It is decentralized and threatens the very foundations of news corporations. We are only seeing the beginnings of the impact it will have on national and global news flow.

Phlearn has created a helpful article for photographers on which social media tools to use, and how to use them.

Social Media As A Manipulation Tool

Social media can also be used to manipulate mass audiences. The particular example I will use involves an attempt to build support for war efforts.

On March 5, 2012, Invisible Children uploaded a video to YouTube called “Kony 2012.” Using professional film techniques to evoke emotions, the video sparked global outrage on social media sites over a rebel group in Uganda whose leader, Joseph Kony, supposedly abducted thousands innocent children and transformed them into militant fighters or sex slaves.

People shared the video and numerous ‘Kony 2012’ info-graphics and the online movement grew quickly. Kony 2012 posters were even plastered around college campuses. People quickly donated money and time to this campaign to stop the evil rebel leader despite not verifying any of the information.

Within a few days of the original video, counter videos popped up. A girl born in Uganda posted videos saying that Kony may have “died five years ago”, or hadn’t been heard from in several years. Other news sites even reported that the LRA hasn’t been very active since 2005. And then the honesty from Invisible Children came out in an interview with Jedidiah Jenkins:

“the truth about Invisible Children is that we are not an aid organization, and we don’t intend to be. I think people think we’re over there delivering shoes or food. But we are an advocacy and awareness organization.”

Invisible Children is not a group that cares about children! It’s a warmongering advocacy group that played on people’s emotions to fund their propaganda efforts, pay hefty salaries and give some money to tyrannical, genocidal African governments like that of Uganda. Again from Jenkins: “it’s true that the Ugandan military has committed crimes in the past. We do not deny those crimes.” Hello? The lesser of two evils is still evil. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend.

Something interesting to note, is that Obama sent troops into Africa after Kony prior to the campaign. Perhaps the campaign was created so Obama could sneak even more troops into 35 other African nations without any kind of public outrage. Reasons aside, the video was a powerful propaganda tool that has changed the media battleground.

Previously, support for warmongering had to come from the mainstream media on television. Without mainstream support after 9/11, the Iraq invasion would have been much more difficult to pull off and maintain as a sort of side-mission to Afghanistan.

Now, we see that social media’s potential to start wars has finally been harnessed to manipulate ignorant masses. The “advocacy group” merely spends a million dollars creating a video and the online public eats it right up and joining a pro-war movement for the sake of some truly invisible children. Then our generous but blind donations recuperate any costs of production, pays for salaries and hotel rooms of those involved.

While I would never advocate censorship of such ridiculous campaigns, the best I can advise is for us ordinary folks to not be a sucker for propaganda.

Don’t be a sucker for war propaganda. Chances are if someone is advocating military action and requesting donations through emotional films and info-graphics, you need think about it, consider the organization that created it it and do some research before hopping on the pro-war bandwagon. Or, simply don’t let appeals to emotion squelch your ability to reach reasonable conclusions. Watch out for videos that are obviously intended to pull at emotions without making a real argument.