ELLIOTT KEENE

A Mass Defiance Against Mass Media

Posted on: May 3, 2012

Last month (April 2012) the latest mobile application to embrace citizen journalism was launched in the Middle East, placing the power of news gathering and disseminating roles into the hands of those on the ground. ‘Signal‘ was inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, and more specifically, the citizens involved in the chaos who are striving to report on the unreported.

The creator behind the application, Mark Malkoun, claims the tool allows its users to geo-tag their content to organise it by location and filters breaking stories by their importance using a voting system, giving total jurisdiction to the audience and defying mass media control – as Malkoun notes “traditional news is centralised and can be slow or biased”.

Biased, I would say, is an understatement here. Both foreign and Middle Eastern journalists suffer severe restrictions. Many are being banned from the streets, imprisoned, or in extreme cases killed – as my previous post on British reporter Marie Colvin’s tragic death exemplifies. Social media has played an essential part in breaking the news across the world – but no where else has it proved to be so fundamental to the truth and to freedom. It’s pivotal role in supporting the news production without political constraints during the Arab Spring provides alternative narratives to that presented by the heavily controlled corporate media.

Citizen journalism collective Mosireen (meaning ‘Egyptians determined’) had the most viewed worldwide non-profit channel on YouTube in January this year (see here). During the brutalities in Egypt that surround them, the group provide independent coverage of events they see as untruthfully reported by the mass media – often getting seriously injured in their attempts to do so. (See video below from Mosireen’s YouTube channel).

I recently came across the book “Tweets from Tahrir” (see here), which documents the successful uprisings in Egypt by telling the narrative of the President Mubarak demonstrations through the Twitter updates of those involved. Through the cries of both violence and liberation, Tweets from Tahrir presents a rich historical archive of the real reactions captured on the micro-blogging site as the events unfolded.

Connecting citizens during the revolution in a way that requires no professional reportage at all is testimony to a mass resistance against authority. Simon Cottle supports the current shift in power in his study by giving credit to social media platforms for “communicating, coordinating and channelling this rising tide of opposition and managing to bypass state controlled national media”. (See Cottle’s research here)

But there’s more – the media are not the only barrier to transparent reporting in the Middle East. In response to high levels of Twitter activity that inflamed the revolt, Egyptian government blocked social media sites. Many managed to bypass the restrictions using proxy servers  to share their content with sites such as Flickr and YouTube, which demonstrates the sheer passion of those who were once news consumers as transformed news activists.

As internet access becomes more widely available around the world on just about any medium – tools such as ‘Signal’ are amplifying citizen’s voices in completely new ways. Consequently, mainstream media are beginning to take note…but you have to wonder whether its because they don’t want to be left completely out of the loop. It seems unlikely that the mainstream media will effectively become the outsiders, but organisations have every reason to worry as their ‘audiences’ recognise that in intense circumstances citizens are the only direct source of truth.

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