Twitter: A Centre for Citizen Journalism

Social media has greatly evolved the way one receives their news and allows them to take a larger role in it than ever. While the public traditionally received news by reading about it in the newspaper, hearing it on the radio, or seeing it on TV, nowadays social media is the most immediate way to receive news as it is right at one’s fingertips. The platform Twitter allows users to view trending news both locally and worldwide, along with various discourse about it on one’s timeline or hashtags. Twitter allows users to engage in citizen journalism, making it a democratic space that helps users better understand the news. 

This evolution of receiving news on Twitter’s platform results in a more rounded understanding of the stories being shared. One is no longer only relying on the author of an article, but is exposed to a multitude of opinions. Users are able to read a tweet from someone directly involved in the situation and are made aware of the main objections or arguments surrounding the issue too. Tweets have a “quote” feature meaning users can essentially add on to an original tweet, giving their own thoughts or comments. These tweets can then be retweeted or liked, sometimes gaining more popularity than the original message. Along with replies, this is often where dissemination takes place. 

When someone – a bystander or person involved in an event – posts some kind of media, often a smartphone photo or video, this is called citizen journalism (Barnes 23). Citizen journalism is defined aspeople without professional or formal training in journalism [having] an opportunity to use the tools of modern technology and the almost limitless reach of the Internet in order to create content that would otherwise not be revealed…” (16). Citizen journalism is an important part of social media being a democratic space. It allows a variety of voices to be heard instead of only professional journalists or government officials. Barnes writes, “Citizen journalism has put back democracy into the hands of individuals, as anyone with a mobile phone or a camera can be a citizen journalist” (23).

The downside of citizen journalism is there is a higher potential for false stories to be spread, as it does not require fact-checking. Still, citizen journalism has proven to be complementary to traditional journalism, and at times, in the case of natural disasters or other instances, it is the only source of information. During the 2009 political upheavals in Iran, some writers referred to it as the “Twitter revolution,” since “traditional media entities like CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBS and other networks [were blocked and] had to rely on information from the social media such as Twitter for their information” (Barnes 22). This is a positive instance where citizen journalism, unlike traditional, is also able to provide instantaneous news and the media is often used by traditional journalists to piece together events later on. It also works well to capture people’s shorter attention spans on social media. Oftentimes important news at the moment is “trending” on Twitter or will be all over one’s timeline. Contrary to traditional news, citizen journalism reveals aspects that may not be on news channels or mainstream media and through users sharing it, it is now given a platform. 

In the case of the Black Lives Matter movement, posts on Twitter and citizen journalism helped to spark the recent protests after the death of George Floyd. According to Pew Research, “There were roughly 218,000 tweets containing the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag the day after his death, when the first bystander video was posted online” (Anderson). This video, an act of citizen journalism that circulated on social media, reveals the police brutality that led to Floyd’s death. It resulted in the 4 officers being fired and later after protests, they were also charged (“Officer in George Floyd Death Faces 2nd-Degree Murder Charge, Others Also Charged”) The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was created on Twitter, “in 2013 by Patrice Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi—California and New York-based organizers active in incarceration, immigration, and domestic labour campaigns—after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder in Florida of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin” (Rickford 35). Citizen journalism has also been used to reveal the violent actions of police at protests as well as displaying the peaceful protests occurring around the world. In contrast, “On balance, Americans say too much news coverage has focused on acts of violence during protests, too little on nonviolent protests” (Mitchell). While mainstream news coverage reveals often the violent side of the story, citizen journalism is able to also show the nonviolent side which is not reported on as often.

By being exposed to these democratic spaces and posts on social media like Twitter, viewers are able to change their opinions especially when it comes to political or social issues. According to a July Pew Research Center survey, “roughly a quarter (23%) of adult social media users in the United States – and 17% of adults overall – say they have changed their views about a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media in the past year” (Perrin). Twitter as a democratic space has allowed viewers to become further educated and engage in citizen journalism. 

This has also resulted in a change for traditional media, as “Citizen media [gives] ideas to traditional media and traditional media [is] also able to develop those ideas to inform and to educate, which are two of the main objectives of traditional journalism” (Barnes 23). While there are downsides like credibility, one must have this in mind to critically examine the information they come across and what they choose to share. This space has overall widened the lens of news as “In order to get the complete story, it helps to have both points of view” (Barnes 17). Traditional journalism has been enriched by using elements of citizen journalism in its storytelling. Along with both traditional and citizen journalism on Twitter, users are able to form their own opinions by retweeting or liking content that they support. 

Twitter has changed the way the public receives their news for the better by offering different viewpoints for a fuller understanding, and by ultimately allowing them to be their own publishers. By being a democratic space, users on Twitter have the opportunity to educate themselves and others on current events to their fullest extent.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Monica et al. “#BlackLivesMatter surges on Twitter after George Floyd’s death.” Pew Research Center, Fact Tank, 10 June 2020, Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.

Barnes, Corinne. “Citizen Journalism vs. Traditional Journalism: A Case for Collaboration.” Caribbean Quarterly, vol. 58, no. 2/3, 2012, pp. 16–27. JSTOR, Accessed 17 Oct. 2020.

Hauser, Christine, et al. “’I Can’t Breathe’: 4 Minneapolis Officers Fired After Black Man Dies in Custody.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 June 2020, Accessed 16 Oct. 2020. (Bystander video link qtd. in Anderson) 

Mitchell, Amy et al. “Majorities of Americans Say News Coverage of George Floyd Protests Has Been Good, Trump’s Public Message Wrong” Pew Research Center, 12 June 2020, Accessed 16 Oct. 2020

“Officer in George Floyd Death Faces 2nd-Degree Murder Charge, Others Also Charged” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 4 June 2020, Accessed 18 Oct. 2020. 

Perrin, Andrew. “23% of users in U.S. say social media led them to change views on an issue; some cite Black Lives Matter.” Pew Research Center, Fact Tank, 15 Oct 2020, Accessed 16 Oct. 2020. 

Rickford, Russell. “Black Lives Matter: Toward a Modern Practice of Mass Struggle.” New Labor Forum, vol. 25, no. 1, 2016, pp. 34–42. JSTOR, Accessed 17 Oct. 2020.

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