Thursday, February 3, 2011

Citizen Journalism: An Intensive Look

Media platforms in Facebook. Fishing for comments?
Is Citizen Journalism an empowering tool or a forum for divisive talk and political tirades?

I am forced to ponder this question after observing my fellow participants in various citizen journalism groups in Facebook. I’ve been a member of TV5’s TEN: The Evening News Facebook group, and now of GMA News’ Facebook page, where ordinary Filipinos can comment and give their views about current national and international issues, as well as report on news events unfolding in their own neighborhood.

I am a person who is always thrilled with the experience of debate and exchanging ideas and convictions with other, especially in person. But Facebook is a different playing field. In these forums, there are no moderators, no time limits, and no control. I should have expected that people will always be the worst versions of themselves in this kind of environment, but somehow my naive faith that people will be decent participants prevailed. I was proven wrong.

Throughout my participation in these forums, I have always found myself defending my convictions to a totally opposed and unreasonable crowd. I have been bashed and bullied. Called names of all sorts. All because I held on to my belief steadfastly. In the beginning, I was totally shocked at how rude most Filipinos in these forums could get. But in the long, I got used to it. I managed to circumvent by not stooping their level by cursing and teasing back but rather by sticking to reasons, facts and figures. Throughout my experience, I managed to have fans and detractors. Thank you to both of them.

An example of how people behave in citizen journalism sites.
To my observation, there are various classifications to people participating in these forums. A small percentage of these participants come from well-educated backgrounds. Not necessarily affluent, but people who have really paid good attention to their studies and have thus been endowed with critical thinking and good reasoning skills. These are the people I am affiliated with. When an issue presents itself, we argue in favor or in disagreement using good judgement, objective reasoning and presentation of facts. We present the whole picture when the media itself fails to do so. We tackle with other participants based on the general rules of decent debate.

Majority of the participants though are common Filipinos. These include students, the unemployed, the blue-collared workers, housewives, OFWs, small and medium entrepreneurs and the likes. I’m not saying they are not well-educated. Some of these folks come from big schools. I’m not saying most of them are poor, because some are from high society. But the one thing they have in common is that they don’t get the facts straight before commenting and expressing their opinions about the news. For them, as long as the article (or even the title) appeals to their emotion they immediately comment, with some even expressing their views in conjunction with curses and other obsceneties.

When these two groups of people meet in these forums, expect pandemonium. Tirades will fly, curses and other forms of slander rain like cats and dogs. In the midst of this chaos, I worry for objective participants like me who only want to get the facts straight yet are being branded as apologetics and are being bullied to the point of being copied by posers and being flagged as spam (resulting in denial of access). Imagine the insecurities and moral damages incurred by this minority of users.

And so this leads me to me back to my initial question. Is Citizen Journalism really empowering people?

To answer my own question, yes it does. Compared to countries like China and Iran where people have relatively little voice in the Internet over news and current events in their countries, at least here in the Philippines, we are being given freedom to do such using these platforms. 

However, citizen journalism platforms in the Internet are a double-sword. One edge being as a voice of the people. The other edge being a breeding ground of division and bipartisanship. While factional politics has been around for quite a while in this country, I worry that the rise of citizen journalism is giving it a nesting place to hatch and spread. Debates between factions go unmoderated, rude participants are not being apprehended and users’ identities and profiles are not protected.

Take the case of the debates between Anti-Noynoy and Pro-Noynoy factions at GMA News in Facebook. These debates, to my observation, no longer focus on real issues and facts. Most comments and tirades against each other are filled with speculation, false assumptions, even gossip and slander. If kept unmoderated, citizen journalism platforms such as GMA News will no longer serve its purpose of empowering people. It will only aggravate the deepening divide between Filipinos at a time when unity and cooperation is what we need most.

I hope media platforms are reading this post.

What we need in these forums is moderation, but not censorship. Direction not disintegration. Empowerment of people, especially those who lack a voice, and authorization for people to step down on others. Citizen journalism is meant to create a venue for people to work together for the common good of their communities, for the common knowledge of all, and for the common enlightenment of everyone. May these media platforms uphold these principles once and for all.

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