CHAPTER THREE: Effects of Social Media on the Journalism Practice
3.1 Defining Social Media
Social media is a term used to describe a type of interactive media where users create content- including videos, audio material, photos, images, gossip, news, etc-and share it among other users. Knight and Cook (2013) describe it as a form of media whose primary role is interaction rather than just dissemination of information. According to Hill & Lashmar (2013) the two key things about social media are participation and community. Participation means that users of social media not only consume content but also produce it. Communities are gatherings on social media of people who share similar characteristics such as participation, openness, conversation, community and connectivity.
3.2 Citizen journalism
It is from the participatory nature of social media explained above that the term citizen journalism emerges. According to Banda (2010) citizen journalism is a practice described as ‘journalism of the people, by the people’. He notes that mainstream media have recognized the power of citizen journalism and have embraced it with an intention of benefitting from it. He adds that in the process of integrating citizen journalism into their practice, journalists are finding ways ‘to inject their own professional instincts, rituals and practices’ into the social media space. Popular social media sites include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, wikis, blogs and WhatsApp.
3.3 Description of Various Social Media Networks
Facebook is a site which allows individuals to create an online profile, share information, invite others to connect with them by being ‘friends . It also supports live streaming.
Twitter is a ‘microblogging site that limits messages, or tweets, to 140 characters . Twitter is a very popular networking forum in Kenya.
YouTube is a social media network which is mainly known for video sharing . Through YouTube one can upload, tag, describe, share, find, watch and comment on videos .
Wiki is a site where readers read, post and edit content. One of the most popular wikis is Wikipedia.
LinkedIn is a networking site where professionals create profiles and connect to fellow professionals.
Blogs are websites where people post information and experiences. The name is a short form of the term weblog. Blogs started as personal diaries where people posted their experiences but have now evolved into a form of journalism which expounds on issues emerging from mainstream media .
3.4 Use of Social Media by Journalists
There are various ways in which journalists use social media. They include; news gathering (this is done by connecting to sources), verifying information, giving information, branding journalists and the organizations they work for and enlarging market share whereby journalists not only connect with current audiences but also seek to increase the numbers of those loyal to them and their media outlets .
Social media have been described as powerful tools in guiding journalists in new ways of telling stories . This is because social media have various tools that enable convergence of audio, video and text.
Social media have become a very important tool for journalists. This can be explained by the fact that a good number of organizations and prominent individuals sometimes choose to give their news via social media accounts rather than calling press conferences . This means that a journalist must follow his or her news sources on their social media platforms. Therefore, the suggestion is not that a journalist should be on social media but that a journalist must be on social media.
Before the emergence of social media, journalists were the custodians of scoops and breaking news. However, social media has changed this narrative, with journalists sometimes receiving a big story ‘third hand’ (sometimes even fourth or fifth) after the same has been posted on social media . The work of the reporter now becomes to retell the story in a different manner, sometimes having to retell the story posted on social media. Alejandro further argues that the face of competition for media is changing with social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter being a strong source of news for a significant segment of population. This new scenario has made the journalist take on the role of gatekeeper whose work is to navigate, sift, select, and contextualize the vast amounts of data on social media streams .
According to Alejandro , the main risks of using social media in journalism were concerns about ‘accuracy, need for verification and the loss of control over the information. He adds that although social media make the work of journalists easier and faster, reporters must be careful to verify every piece of information before disseminating it.
3.5 Impact of Social Media on the Journalism Practice
Social media has changed the power structure in journalism, with traditional media having to recognize the importance of the audience ”not just as news sources but as news censors” . This explains why social media has been referred by some as the fifth estate . As the fifth estate, social media monitor mainstream media for inaccuracies in reporting in a similar ay to that in which traditional media are seen as the fourth estate that keeps the various government arms in check. Because of the participatory and open nature of social media, users are bolder in discussing topics that mainstream media which have strict gate keeping processes are likely to shy away from.
However, even as social media enthusiasts regard themselves as the fifth estate, there are those who feel that traditional media cannot be disregarded either. Their view is that while social media is good at breaking stories that traditional media may initially shy away from, mainstream media is instrumental in digging deeper into issues and ensuring they get the attention of those in authority .
The continued integration of social media into traditional media has increased the speed and immediacy with which news is reported . Journalists are today required to disseminate news as fast as they can, even as they are expected by their professional duties to verify the information they avail to their audiences. Social media platforms are especially important in breaking news where there may be no reporters on the ground. In this case, the work of the professional journalist is to verify the reports on social media, gather more information on the matter and then disseminate the news to the public.
According to Witschge ; Nygren (2009), the rise of social media and citizen journalism has led to the de-professionalization of the media profession. They note that although journalists enjoy easier access to sources, citizen journalists can bypass newsrooms and disseminate information on various platforms online. They note that although professional standards in journalism are diminishing because of the changes in the profession, there is a ”return to professional values by journalists themselves, which they deem sets them apart from other news providers in the current mediascape”.
One of the challenges that social media has had on traditional journalism is the loss of revenue for mainstream media organizations . The audience for offline media seem to be diminishing while the younger generation tends to be more social media-oriented. The challenge is that the online audience prefers to get the content for free and is yet to embrace the concept of subscription. This means that media organizations are still grappling with ways to generate money from their online platforms beside what they make from advertising .
Social media has led to the propagation of fake news in Kenya. According to an article published on 7th November, 2018 by the Standard newspaper, the 2017 general elections propaganda and fake news saw Kenya’s global ranking for Internet freedom drop. A report by US-based Freedom House lobby, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy in the world, Kenya’s ranking was downgraded to ‘partly free’ from ‘free, marking a significant drop among the 65 countries featured in the 2018 index. Freedom House explained the drop as owing to online manipulation and disinformation targeted to voters in the August 2017 elections.
The ratification of the Computer and Cybercrimes Act 2018 which stipulates fines for individuals found guilty of hacking and propagation of fake news was also cited as one of the reasons for the declining internet freedom .