In today’s digital world, user-generated content from ‘citizen journalists’ dominate the daily happenings in such a way that it leaves other traditional means in the dust when it comes to being the first to report an incident. Journalism is basically newsgathering and reporting, the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information. ‘Citizen Journalism’ is yet another term born out of the latest media trends. New media technology, like social media and media-sharing websites, in addition to the increasing prevalence of cellular telephones, have made citizen journalism more accessible to people worldwide. Recent advances in new media have started to have a profound political impact. Due to the availability of technology, citizens often can report breaking news more quickly than traditional media reporters. When a common citizen takes the task of gathering news and spreading it using the new media, it is citizen journalism. There are various cases where citizen journalism has proved its potential in the past, like, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the 2013 protests in Turkey, the Euromaidan events in Ukraine, Syrian Civil War and the 2014 Ferguson unrest.
News has lost the credibility and reliance which it boasted before because any fake news cam also be trending throughout social media and people do have to cross-check it for its verification. There have been many cases where celebrities have been announced dead when they are all fit and fine. Cases of defamation and violation of RTI have also been registered, with citizen journalism as a cause at its core. But in spite of having several also, there are apps like ‘Inshorts’ which provides credible news within 60 words. It is very convenient for any busy person to stay updated with the news by devoting very less time, comparatively. So with both pros and cons, citizen journalism stands in a question mark whether or up to which mark should it be trusted? Logically it again comes to our understanding of the world and our rational behaviour.
There are three simple things every one of us can do to foster trust and improve the quality of our online information environment: First, seek the best information. Second, speak truthfully. Third, serve the larger good. Some of these ideas probably seem like familiar moral principles. They should, and they are oversimplified ideas from media codes of ethics, but these three simple reminders are a good start. Seeking the best information means reading and supporting news organizations, citizen groups or advocacy organizations that are transparent about their information gathering. Do they rely on first-hand witnessing and original documents? Do they have a code of ethics? Issue corrections? Name their sources, offer facts and context? Or is the article a second- or third-hand analysis far-removed from its original fact gathering? Speaking truthfully may seem obvious, but consider how easy it is to hit the “share” button and then it’s easy to see why we accidentally spread the news of celebrity deaths years after they’ve already happened, or a meme that tickles our funny-bone even though its information is inaccurate.That’s why the third rule calls for serving the larger good.
Citizen journalism was once hailed as a revolution that would make news-gathering a more democratic process—one that would no longer solely be the province of professional reporters. While citizen journalists empower local communities and fill in the gaps of mainstream media, citizen journalism remains a work in progress. One problem is that citizen journalism has been marred by non-fact-checked, inaccurate reporting, like the political reports that further divide people in today’s toxic political culture. With inaccurate reporting, the audience is left not knowing who or what to believe.
So before hitting “share,” ask yourself whether what you’re passing on helps or hurts the democratic conversation. Demand sources for charts and arguments, especially the ones that serve your personal political beliefs. Ask yourself whether that funny meme denigrates other people based on their race, ethnicity or gender. If you wouldn’t tell that sort of joke at the office or your church picnic, why pass it along to a presumably larger audience online?
We are all gatekeepers now, whether we like it or not. Our online lives are connected to our real ones. We can use our smartphones and social media accounts to feed our ideals or we can undermine them. To borrow a phrase from Walt Kelly’s classic Pogo comic strip: We have met the media, and the media are us.