Citizen Journalism: How the Media Gave Us All a Job
But the Onus Lies on Us to Take Responsibility
If there’s one thing the media are currently ‘circumspect’ about in our dispensation, it would be the concept of citizen journalism. Even researchers have acknowledged the fact that Citizen Journalism has disrupted the news-media ecosystem ‘challenging the veracity and representativeness of information flowing from mainstream news-media newsrooms’.
Before now, the mainstream media served as sole gatekeepers where the reporters defined what stories make the headlines and when. But not anymore! The ordinary citizens like you have taken the job! And it’s just with your gadget.
Contemporary media technology has flipped the coin, it has morphed the news delivery system by enabling every citizen to serve as reporters of events in their own rights. This has challenged the accepted tenets that professional journalists are the only conduits of reporting stories.
For instance, I didn’t have to wait to watch or read CNN’s report or peruse the pages of a newspaper before I caught a glimpse of the bedlam on Capitol hill in January 2021. Twitter was ablaze with live video feeds, shares, comments, reactions about the event, which gave me a full, and maybe partial and fractured account of the story. This exactly is the idea of citizen journalism- citizens are first in breaking news.
One of America’s foremost journalists and advocate for freedom of expression, Courtney C. Radsch provides a robust definition of citizen journalism “as an alternative and activist form of news gathering and reporting that functions outside mainstream media institutions, often as a response to shortcomings in the professional journalistic field, that uses similar journalistic practices but is driven by different objectives and ideals and relies on alternative sources of legitimacy than traditional or mainstream journalism”.
In other words, as a result of the risks and threats that accompany the jobs of journalists, neutrality and objective reporting might be lost. So, ‘deprofessionalization’ of journalism heralded by technology has made room for the proliferation of news flow through members of the society.
Although these have raised questions about ethical standards and quality reporting, it has proven to further rekindle the embers of democracy, political participation and fundamentally upheld one of the rights of every citizen- Freedom of Expression because citizens are not bound by any quota whatsoever to ‘broadcast’ their stories.
“Journalists don’t even decide what the biggest story of the day is anymore, rather, society does, and the news that goes viral is often produced by social media users themselves.” Ellie Mason
Citizens have the ‘liberty’ to raise their voices on an issue and be heard, have access to different perspectives of a story perhaps in its ‘unsullied’ form. Even mainstream journalists are noted to rely on social media to outsource and distribute their news stories especially via Facebook and Twitter.
And as journalists have already noted, ‘citizen journalism does support professional journalism, it has provided a platform for journalists to interact with their sources which can breed engagement’.
But despite the benefits that accompany this form of journalism, the media has continually wrestled with fake news controversies. In response to this, there has been considerable efforts by social media companies to fix algorithms to detect the authoritativeness of shared contents on their platforms.
Facebook since the 2016 US presidential elections and erupting political propaganda, has partnered with numerous fact checking partners, attached warning labels to curb the epidemic of misinformation.
Twitter on the other hand before the 2020 US elections implemented some fact check features to identify feeds that incite violence or misinformation, but this fact check services were reportedly restricted to celebrities, influencers and politicians, therefore a call to widen the reach of this service as there are speculations and even research outcomes that social media misinformation might be worse in the coming years.
The social media platforms must continuously accommodate detection features, fix algorithms to reduce the spread and impact of fake news in real time in every section of the society before it totally tears down the social fabrics of the society.
Let’s take a close look at the #EndSars protest against police brutality in Nigeria in 2020. The social media was a formidable tool in the hands of the protesters in the wake of the demonstration which even sparked demonstrations in solidarity from Nigerians in diaspora.
There were over 28 million tweets on twitter and the nation’s cry led to the eventual and immediate dissolution of the Special Anti Robbery Squad. Though the protest was critically acclaimed as a ‘success’ with citizens able to provide live feeds of the events even before the journalists came to the scene, there were numerous misrepresentations of stories in form of doctored pictures, fake news stories from news websites.
For instance, on the 11th of October, the chyron from CNN’s Tonight by Don Lemon was digitally altered to replace America with Nigeria went viral on Facebook during the protest but it was reported that Lemon in his program never made any comment on Nigeria or the #EndSARS protest.
The original version of the chyron states that “Two deadly viruses are killing Americans: COVID-19 and Racism.” But the altered version stated that ‘Two deadly viruses are killing Nigerians: COVID19 and #EndSARS.” This is an example of many.
A group of authors described the nature of fake news as ‘designed to plant seeds of mistrust and exacerbate the existing social and cultural dynamics by misusing political, regional and religious undercurrents’. Apart from the political implication of misinformation, organizations have had to contend with false news about their products and brand which has implanted false beliefs and viewpoints about them. Consequently, an effect on company’s value and revenue.
Suffice to say that citizens have the obligation to be circumspect with their posts, shares, comments and likes. The onus lies on every member of the society to learn to distinguish facts from ‘fakes’ by simple fact checking for credibility sake no matter how sensational the story might seem before hitting the share or upload button.
With the proliferation of digital and new media platforms and the accompanying explosion of fake news, trustworthy reports can still be guaranteed. But that depends on the choice of each citizen to take responsibility with their gadgets.
Citizen Journalism is not a weapon of societal destruction or a tool to stir up violence, but a conduit for democracy and development.