You See It, You Report It: Citizen Journalism

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Monday April 20, 2015 marked the 117th annual Boston Marathon race. A select group of the fastest and most qualified runners from around the world joined together to run a total of 26.2 miles. It was just 2 years ago that a tragedy struck the event and left a lasting impact on the runners’ lives. There is no better feeling than crossing the finish line, especially after the long endurance challenge that each marathon runner experiences. However, unlike the triumphant and glorious feeling of crossing the finish line, the runners were instead surprised by two bombs that were set off at the finish line. Hundreds of runners were left wounded and few even lost their lives. Immediately, the bombs changed the beautiful, sunny afternoon to a scene of panic and tragedy.

Throughout all of the chaos of the event, many spectators took the initiative to film and capture the tragic event on their cameras and mobile devices. This type of media engagement can be considered a form of “citizen journalism”. Citizen journalism, also known as participatory, user-generated, community journalism, is basically the act of normal, everyday citizens engaging in media and publishing their work to inform the rest of the world. The actions of citizen journalists are defined by the phrase, “You See it, You Report it”. The citizen journalists during the Boston Marathon bombing played an active role in the manhunt to find the bombers. Boundless amounts of pictures and video footage from the race resurfaced and investigators sorted through all kinds of digital media for evidence. Reddit users posted pictures of possible bombers for the entire nation to view.

Citizen journalism, like all forms of media engagement, also has its pros & cons. In the Boston Bombing case, the negative impact of citizen journalists was that they identified many false allegations of the Boston bomber. The wrongly accused bombers received lots of scrutiny and attention in the media, ultimately damaging their reputations and putting their lives at risk in some cases. Whether or not the accused bombers were the real culprits, the evidence and pictures from citizen journalists could be interpreted in many different ways. Although, in the end, citizen journalists played a critical role in revealing evidence of the actual Boston bombers. Without the help from citizen journalists, many cases throughout history would probably still be left unanswered.

As a citizen do you think it is our civic duty to report or publish information in times of crisis?

Boston and the Case for Responsible Citizen Journalism

A roundtable discussion at Harvard University’s Department of Journalism: Nieman focuses on the growing impact of social media, especially in times of national crisis, such as the Boston Marathon bombing.

GENERATIONS & MEDIA

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A growing trend in digital media is that as individuals grow older, they tend to participate less and less on online communities. The younger generations are frequently considered to be the most active online. UVA Media Studies Professor Siva Vaidhyanathan argues that there is no such thing as a “digital generation”. Although, the youth are very active online, they do not constitute the ONLY population online. The skills of youth are often overestimated because digital media was available to them at a young age. However, many youth today (myself included) are far from experts of digital media. Although, when I compare my digital media skills to my grandparents, I would argue that a large generational gap does exist. I agree with Professor Vaidhyanathan to the extent that it is hard to define exactly what a generation is because we are unable to determine precisely when a generation begins and ends. Our generation today grew up in a society flourishing with technological advances and social media networks. I could honestly not imagine a world free of cell phones, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other Web 2.0 sites that I use on a daily basis.

A new type of language and culture is embedded within each technology that has entered our digital world. Users of technology do not just simply obtain the skills and language used on digital media, but like every other follower and friend online, users have to learn and adapt to the online culture. Therefore, I believe that the elderly have the ability to learn and adapt the skills of online culture, but many of them voluntarily choose not to. In order to help the older generations become more in touch with the rising digital media culture of today’s society I recommend training classes to be offered at major media corporations. Some media companies, such as Verizon already offer a wide range of classes that the older generation can benefit from.

The Attack of Yik Yak

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Yik Yak, a newly launched anonymous geolocation application within college campuses has caused some uproar in the media about the implications that the app has on college communities. Similar to Facebook, Yik Yak is strictly targeted towards college students. The application was also created by 2 college graduate students, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington. Yik Yak allows users to view trending “Yaks” at other colleges around the nation as well as featured posts of the day, which are made up of current trending topics. In contrast, if a high schooler or middle schooler tries to log on to Yik Yak they will be immediately be prompted to a page that disables the use of the app (See below). Furthermore, Yik Yak implements each user with a “Yakarma” score, which gives active users points when other users like their posts.

Yik Yak Restrictions

Digital media can be used in many positive ways, such as reinforcing social ties and breaking down location barriers to build relationships. However, some users utilize social media and other forms of online communities as a way to inflict violence and act as “cyberbullies”. Many colleges have already petitioned to restrict the use of Yik Yak on campus because the application does not promote a caring community environment. The creators of Yik Yak encourages app users to create a safe space, by abiding by a list of rules, such as no bullying.

However, Yik Yakers often take advantage of the anonymity of the application as they hide behind their screens when making rude jokes and comments about other fellow members of the community. Recently, the massive expansion and growth of the application has caused a lot of media attention, especially in regards to college professors and other faculty members. Many teachers have found that their reputations have been destroyed through the widespread negative use of Yik Yak. Even in my own Digital Media class at UVA, my professor discovered a Yik Yak posted about him and displayed the comment for our entire class to see. Although the Yik Yak was not by any means derogative or hurtful, the professor wanted to prove a point that although the application may be restricted to only college students, other people around the college campus are still able to log on and interact on Yik Yak. The application lacks a student verification process, therefore professors and the rest of UVA faculty are free to roam online to view what students are “Yaking” about. It is our duty to challenge the authority of these applications and tools, especially as they can result in dangerous and harmful impacts on others. A blogger on Huffington Post argues 3 important rules that users need to keep in mind when engaging online, which include: 1. Anonymity is an illusion, 2. Criminal charges, 3. Digital Footprint. 3 Things Kids Need to Know About YIK YAK

In the future, do you think Yik Yak will have to initiate more restrictions in order to ensure an overall safe and anti-bullying environment?

JOURNALISM ETHICS & OBJECTIVITY

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Rolling Stone recently retracted their article “A Rape on Campus” after investigating a reported act of sexual assault at UVA. The article directly criticized members of the UVA faculty and certain fraternity members, where the incident was perceived to have occurred. After much uproar and attention in the media, the article was immediately questioned for fact-checking. The Columbia School of Journalism issued a report arguing that the article contained “confirmation bias”, meaning that it only relied on one single source, which was the victim of the accused assault. Although the magazine was unable to find any evidence behind the story, this incident proves that we should remain critical consumers of what is published in the media. According to Crawford and Boyd’s “Six Provocations for Big Data”, just because we can access data through media outlets does not mean that it is ethical.

Although the article was retracted, the effects that the article had on the accusers did not vanish. Many UVA faculty members received death threats and hate e-mails due to how the article portrayed them. Not only were the accusers affected by the release of the article, but other victims of sexual assault have been hurt by the article, as it may make others who have been victims in the past reluctant to tell their stories. The moral of the story is, we cannot believe everything we see in the media and we should always read or consume media with our guards up.

The Columbia School of Journalism Report: What Went Wrong:

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ALL BITS ARE CREATED EQUAL

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We have all heard the phrase “net neutrality” come up in the news as a recent topic of debate. If not, then let me just break it down for you. Net neutrality is the idea that all websites should be given equal treatment online. The internet operates under the influence of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which navigate internet users to the specific sites that they would like to visit. Some websites may load faster than others due to the influence of “fast lanes” and “slow lanes”. Big websites and companies tend to use fast lanes because they have the financial resources to pay extra for their sites to load faster. However, smaller websites, such as your friend’s blog will not load as fast as your Netflix. The topic has sprawled a long history of court cases and legal conflicts regarding the rules of the Internet. On February 24, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Chairman wheeler, held a hearing that discussed various online rules and open internet prospects. Many opponents of net neutrality argue that the decision will initiate expensive government regulations and force major Internet Service Providers, such as Verizon to cut back on new technology investments, which will ultimately limit innovation.

What’s your take on the net neutrality debate?