(My) TEDxRice Speech: Revisiting Citizen Journalism & Fake News

This speech was given at the TEDxRice: Uncommon Knowledge Conference on 2.18.17. Video of the talk to come soon.

Good morning and thank you for having me. As a proud Rice alum, it’s good to be home.

Today, I’m inspired by a geeky conversation I had with my best friend (also a Rice alum) a year and a half ago. We were at an art show Downtown playing with our smartphones. Periscope, a live video streaming app acquired by Twitter, debuted. Periscope allows us to stream live video in front of their Twitter audience. Being certified geeks, we were excited to broadcast our art excursion to an audience. As she pushed the button in the app to go live, she asked, “If I go live, will anyone notice or care?” I responded, “If a tree falls in a forest and nobody’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?” For what it is worth, when we post information online, it makes a sound. Our live streams produce a ripple effect. Millions across the world use live streaming platforms to share. Some the of content is mundane like being stuck in traffic. Other live streams are of civil unrest, protests, and what we see on the nightly news. Make sense?

It’s time to revisit Citizen Journalism, the spread of informational news by the general public via the Internet. SEEMO and Ground Report are reputable publications with valuable material from international reporters. Citizen journalism is not new, but, the scene is reinventing itself with live streaming video.

Recently, Periscope, Facebook Live, and Instagram Stories (among others) were used during Muslim Ban protests at airports across the nation, the Women’s March on Washington (which had an international presence — even in Antarctica), and the violence in Aleppo which leaves a stain on the world’s conscience.

For the sake of levity, TruTV’s Impractical Jokers Brian Quinn broadcasted from the 2016 San Diego Comic Con Festival while wearing a superhero cape and playing with a pinball machine. On a personal note, Brian is my favorite Joker.

This goes to show that a citizen’s live broadcasts are the new form of news. It may be serious, whimsical, “stupid,” and “crazy.” Just in time.

Sixteen years ago, if I wanted to be a citizen journalist, it would have been harder. I would boot up my 56K modem, write a description of a pixelated photo, and wait for the GeoCities page to publish. There is a life before WiFi. By the time the content uploads, it is stale and irrelevant because the moment passed.

Small computers in the hands of people and the ease of live reporting makes us agents of change. The numbers associated with the usage of Facebook Live and Periscope (alone) are astounding:

Facebook Live:

  • People spend 3x longer watching Live video compared to video which is no longer live
  • Facebook users have watched more than 1 million hours with Samsung VR gear
  • Video post has 135% greater organic reach than photo posts (Source)

Periscope:

  • Number of Periscope Broadcasts to Date: 200 million
  • Average Amount of Video Users Watch Daily on Periscope: 110 years worth of video
  • Amount of Video Content Streamed Daily on Periscope: 350,000 Hours of Video (Source)

Why is this important? This is the time to do it; we have to do this.

In August 2016, an episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, focused on journalism. Here’s why it’s important: Within the past decade, news reporting staff is stretched thin. Sexy, clickbait worthy stories replace the local beat. Leaving us the opportunity to report live news, on our terms, in our voice. With instant video, citizen journalism is evolving. Because these newspapers are not available, we must step in. We can be journalists.

How can you be agents? Report the live news you want to in an era where fake news is everywhere. When the average American checks in on the world, some question, “Is this real or fake news?” when scrolling through the headlines. Now, that’s a problem especially given the developing presidential administration updates.

I’ve seen evidence that Rice students are already agents and citizen journalists. Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, ~150 Rice students gathered in the Academic Quad to form a group hug. The group hug called for us to stand together in the wake of a new, divisive pesidency. The event’s advertisement read, “Rice is and will continue to be a safe place for you.” Then, we stood for a moment of silence before singing the school song. You filmed the video and published on thecollegefix.com. The YouTube video of the event has 7,200+ views and counting. Otherwise, how would the public have known? The touching moment brought tears to my eyes. This is the Rice I know.

This is our time to be journalists. Technology is a tool; it’s not the end-all-be-all. You use the Internet to create change. We may not be in the same class as Anderson Cooper or Gwen Eifel. Yet, we have the agency to deliver news without a third-party deciding whether it is newsworthy. That is power and agency. So what will you do now?