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‘Citizen journalism’ still has much to prove

November 9, 2009

Paul Carr writes a very thought provoking and compelling article here on the dark side of social-media / citizen journalism in the wake of (and during) the Fort Hood massacre.

As the incident was unfolding, the military placed a lockdown on the base and restricted communications to the media through an appointed spokesperson. However, unbeknownst to them, there was a Twitter friendly, self appointed reporter (soldier) inside the base, providing real-time commentary and snapshots along with her phone number to all her followers on Twitter. Her name was Tearah Moore.

So, another ‘Twitterscoop’ alike the Iran saga, you say?

No. Not when it turns out that she was Twittering “bullshit information”.

Mr Carr captures the very essence which is at the heart of the “professional journalism vs citizen journalists” debate, currently raging everywhere from the confines of the smallest net forums to the floors of American lawmakers – “Why am I writing/posting/sharing/youtubing/flikring this?”

The egoistical temperament that we all as humans share drives us to make our personal views known to the rest of the world.

In the past, these views were shared across dinner tables and bar tops, or across an 18 hole green or dressing rooms corridors.

We spoke the truth of our thoughts and sometimes the secrets of our inner, darker hearts, to a smaller and much closer social circle. A circle which could often necessarily distil our personal biases from the stories we tell. A circle which were better able to separate fact from fiction and at the very least, accrue the credibility of one’s story directly to their perceived intelligence or perhaps experience of the subject matter.

With the dominance of social media in our lives today – blogs, Twitter, Facebooks and its entourage – what has changed is not the need for us to express our views, but the channels for which we express them on. Along with that change is the momentous forthcoming of an audience we’ve never known ourselves, or could even conceivably imagine.

How many bloggers know what it feels like, sounds like or what it means to speak to a million people? What is the weight of one’s words when it is heard by one and then again by one times a million?

Not many. In fact, most don’t.

Look around. The number of people who still get into trouble by exposing themselves too much on the world wide web, apparently “not knowing” or “never thinking” how widespread a single picture or stupid “Facebook status” can get.

Most bloggers still don’t understand what they are or aren’t liable for in terms of what gets published on their blog… seeking Press rights by law yet defying Press principles by practice.

Most of us really can’t comprehend it, let alone know or understand the responsibility that comes with it…

In Paul Carr’s own words:

“And so it was at Fort Hood. For all the sound and fury, citizen journalism once again did nothing but spread misinformation at a time when thousands people with family at the base would have been freaking out already, and breach the privacy of those who had been killed or wounded. We learned not a single new fact, nor was a single life saved.”

What does speaking to a million, ten million or a billion people mean?

It means a much higher level of responsibility in our chosen words than when only our dinner companions or afternoon tea girlfriends were listening… a level high enough that our humanity has yet to come to terms with, but our technology already has.

Once again, our science has raced ahead while our souls lagged behind.

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