While many have become accustomed to using Facebook to share a YouTube clip of a silly cat with friends, social media platforms have taken a vast step forward in providing a revolutionary contribution to society, in the wake of the protests that have torn throughout Egypt, Libya and Bahrain.
The web has become a vital tool, not only for those on the ground fighting oppressive regimes, but also for major news broadcasters which have latched on to the valuable assets services such as Twitter, Flickr and Demotix have provided. Through these services, a constant stream of information and media has been available to western news outlets, which has resulted in powerful images coming out of countries that – if the likes of Colonel Gaddafi had their way – would be a black hole of information throughout political unrest.
The manner in which the internet has been manipulated in order to avoid the gaze of the censors that would block dissenting information has been interesting as well. The Wall blog reports that Libyan protesters have turned to dating websites “to get around the watchful eyes of Colonel Gaddafi”. AOL reports that “revolutionaries have used coded language posted on dating profiles to help organise comrades… For example, when one user wrote, ‘I LLLLLove you,’ the five Ls in the posting meant he had five people with him, ready to join the protests”.
It has also led to some interesting research on the role social media has played in news coverage of the Egyptian revolution. Kathryn Corrick’s study, for the Foreign Press Association, showed how journalists on the ground have used Twitter to report in real-time, image hosts to upload photographs and YouTube to place footage online for all to see – nuggets of information that are picked up by other media and disseminated throughout news channels. ABC News even used Tweetdeck to collate a range of Twitter hashtags to follow updates from Egypt in real time, presenting a cacophony of sources into a narrative that traditional news media could exploit.
Despite the power of new media, which has aided these countries to tell their story to audiences that would otherwise be unaware of the struggles taking place, Corrick observes some familiar problems in her study. Verification, reliability, curation and editing, limits of technology and connectivity, censorship, interpretation and analysis and the ability to spot a story remain issues – and some, such as verification and reliability are exacerbated – in this realm of real-time reportage.
These are issues in which traditional media can lend its strengths, however, as it did in the case of ABC News collating a tsunami of information and making it digestible and understandable for audiences that are not deeply involved in the story. But regardless of these issues, the most important thing is that social media, and the internet as a whole, has given a repressed people the ability to share what is happening to them with the outside world – a voice, in other words.
Which is, if you think about it, what they are risking their lives for in the first place.
(Link: What role did social media play in the news coverage of 2011 Egyptian revolution?, Kathryn Corrick)
Photo taken by Flickr user jetalone, licensed under Creative Commons.