Social Media & Citizen Journalism

This week we examined the role of social media platforms in encouraging an upsurge in the number of participants in citizen journalism, with a particular reference to the recent “Arab Spring” uprising and during the 2004 South East Asian Tsunami crisis.

The two readings this week are by Sarah Joseph, ‘Social Media, Political Change, And Human Rights’ and Stuart Allen, ‘Bearing Witness: Citizen Journalism & Human Rights Issues’. Joseph’s paper was particular focused on the role social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook & Blogs played in the recent “Arab Spring” uprising. The main points I took from this article were the definition of social media, as “A group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological & technological foundations of Web 2.0, & that allow the creation & exchange of User Generated Content”. I also found the OECD’s three (3) criteria for content to be classified as user-generated interesting:

  1. Should be available on a publicly accessible website or on a social networking site that is available to a select group.
  2. It entails a minimum amount of creative effort.
  3. Is created outside of professional routines & practices

Facebook and Twitter were deemed to have such an impact during the “Arab Spring” due to the massive user bases world-wide, Facebook had 835.6 million users in March 2012, accounting for more than 10% of the world population, & Twitter had 500 million active users in April of the same year with 340 million tweets per day. These numbers make it very clear that information posted on these sites has a much wider reach than many people would have previously had access to and thus can change attitudes & opinions world-wide & also make it harder for oppressive government to subdue their detractors without notice. These social media sites are also very important because they are fantastic facilitators of conversation & debate thus allowing the ultimate truth to come to the forefront.

The second reading for this week by Stuart Allen focuses on blogs and how they encouraged citizen journalism during the 2004 South East Asian Tsunami Crisis, it has a particular focus on how citizen journalism is helping to break down the traditional “us and them’ dichotomies which exist in modern Western journalism. The development of the internet & mobile communications has prompted the development of horizontal rather than top down networks of interactive communication that connect local & global.

With reference to the Tsunami crisis Allen explains how the idea of “helicopter journalism” where foreign correspondents report on what they see from a helicopter or in the very limited context that they encounter has been almost done away with the advent of blogging and citizen journalism by those people involved in the disaster at the time of the incident or living in more remote parts of the community & recounting their own personal experiences.

An example how wide and how quickly Twitter in particular can spread news has been the recent shooting in an Aurora Colorado theatre at the Batman premier, I first heard of this news on the social media site and the subsequently searched more hastags and then eventually when details were available on mainstream news media sites got the final picture from there.

One problem I have with the use of social media & was also pointed out in the articles is that the idea of “self mass communication” can also allow for very hateful, derogatory or extremist views to be published and viewed by many. A recent example of this is the extremely hurtful messages posted to British Olympic diver Ton Daley’s Twitter page after failing to win his event.

This clearly shows that there is a tradeoff to this fantastic new journalistic medium at our fingertip and it must be treated with a great respect.


Allan, Stuart, Prasun Sonwalkar and Cynthia Carter (2007) ‘Bearing witness: citizen journalism and human rights issues’, Globalisation, Societies and Education, 5(3):373-389.

Joseph, Sarah (2012) ‘Social media, Political Change, and Human Rights’, Boston College International and Comparative Law Review, Vol. 35: 145-188.


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