Social media connects many people and provides news and information similar to legacy news media organisations but the communication and interaction between those connected by social media is far more complex. Social media members also enjoy far greater levels of participation with those providing news and information however greater agency exists within the sharing and distribution of news and information. What gets chosen to be shared amongst social media users says something about those connections, relationships and perhaps even the influence of the social media spaces themselves.
Networked Media – the changing relationship between news producer and consumer.
The term networked media is used in relation to social media by academic Dana Boyd to describe publics that are connected or ‘networked’ via the medium of technology; in this case digital technology and more precisely, internet technologies. The social media sites are ‘publics’ because large amounts of people are connected and through the nature of social media, the interactions that occur between members of these publics is not only enhanced by the technology, but also shaped by the technology (Boyd, 2011, p.6). This is an important consideration because there is an alarming rate of negative and hateful behaviour online that has recently characterised recent internet behaviour.
There are multiple examples of cyber hate and trolling that’s currently being reported within Australian media including the recent Christchurch massacre and the Facebook live stream that was produced by the gunman while carrying out the shootings. This is one tragic example of how social media has brought about major changes to that way that news is reported and what should be reported. In some ways social media is replacing the traditional gate-keeping role of news media however, what content is chosen to be shared and distributed on social media points to greater agency for social media audiences (Green and Jenkins, p. 110). This is explored later in this blog with reference to the Christchurch massacre.
- Scott Morrison wants crackdown on social media companies after sharing of Christchurch shootings footage
- Tayla Harris says trolls’ social media comments on AFLW photo were sexual abuse
- West Coast Eagles release video to condemn Liam Ryan racial slurs posted on Instagram
Context collapse within social media and the impact on Journalists
The case of Ginger Gorman is an interesting example of how the interactions within social media spaces are shaped. The affordances of social media, in particular, persistence, scalability andsearchability within the digital sphere of social media has had a profound impact on journalists and their ability to perform their role without fear of repercussions. In 2010, Gorman compiled 9 stories on the treatment of LBGT members within the Cairns community for local ABC radio and the ABC website. These pieces were described by Gorman as ‘features’ and not ‘investigative stories’. 3 years after these stories were published, news broke that a gay couple Gorman had interviewed, Mark Newton and Peter Truong, were charged with pedophilia relating to their young son who also featured in one of the stories.
When Ginger Gorman’s news story was discovered by a a high profile, ultra-conservative conservative journalist and blogger, Robert Stacey McCain, he wrote a series of blogs that implicated the ABC journalist in the crime and incited online hatred toward her. Gorman’s Twitter handle was included in these blog articles and she was subsequently the unwitting recipient of a barrage of hatred directed at herself, a death threat and a picture of her family appeared on a fascist website. Tellingly, she felt that she had put her family at risk simply by her doing her role as a journalist. Consequently, journalists need to be mindful of the the legacy that their work creates in the digital age of social media sites. The persistence, searchability and scalability of digital content, creates a collapse of context within social media sties creating an ‘invisible audience‘ (Boyd, 2011, p.9).
Social media sites as and example of networked publics, transform the types of interactions that take place through the through the structure of the technology that enables the interaction to occur. Boyd compares this type of influence to the way that architecture can effect social interactions in response to it (Boyd, 2011, p.4). The interest for this case study is the way that social media has created a segmentation of audiences and unfortunately lead to a lack of diversity of available opinion and knowledge. Gorman states in a Radio National interview: How Trolling and Cyberhate Cause Real Life Harm, that ‘trolls‘ are apparently highly organised into syndicates and they all know each other. Gorman likens the influence that unsavoury chat rooms have on young minds as a form of radicalization (Barclay, 2019).
Harni Farid – Professor of Digital Forensics at the University Of California would concur with the view of Ginger Gorman and during an interview with ABC journalist Fran Kelly stated that people are being radicalised toward extremist activity via online ‘echo chambers’ and planning radical attacks which are designed to go viral and are indeed going viral. In relation to the live streaming of the Christchurch massacre, he points towards a failing of social media to control the type of content that is being broadcast (Kelly, F. 2019). Scott Morrison’s recent decision to regulate social media and issue criminal offences to those in control of social media companies suggests that the gatekeeping role that traditional media outlets have played, may also need to be applied to social media.
Spreadable Media – Ethical journalism
Social media spaces connect people by interest and can change the way that people interact with each due the affordances of social media. Spreadability is one such affordance that allows digital media to be shared and distributed to virtually the same level employed by traditional forms of mass media. The notion of spreadable media has played a major role in the recent Christchurch massacre due to the gunman producing a live stream that was extensively shared, was online via Facebook for 17 minutes and then kept reappearing after Facebook had taken the video down from the social media site (Kelly, 2019). Media commentators Green and Jenkins suggest that utopian notions of participatory media and citizen journalism don’t concern them:
“Instead, … we are concerned with a far more participatory and much messier understanding of circulation; what happens when a large number of people make active decisions to pass along an image, song, or bit of video that has taken their fancy to various friends, family members, or larger social networks? Increasingly, all of us – media ‘producers’ and consumers alike – are also media appraisers and distributors” Green and Jenkins, 2011, p.111).
The active agency that audiences have, according to Green and Jenkins is located in what messages are chosen to spread, the way that is done and the communities that they reach. The technical affordances of social media enables the rapid spread of content far easier and signal the motives behind what is and what isn’t chosen to be shared and spread (Green and Jenkins, 2011, p.111).
In an article for the ABC, journalist Craig McMurthie suggests that ‘credible’ news media organisation must exercise greater caution when making decisions regarding what is public interest journalism and what isn’t. The issue of whether to share the manifesto that the Christchurch gunman created and then shared online, was a decision that the ABC chose not to go ahead with. The decision to not publish was intended to deny extremists the platform they crave to disseminate hatred. Maintaining ethical standards about what should and shouldn’t be published is part of the everyday machinations of news journalism (McCuthrie, 2019).
The impact that social media has on legacy media outlets such as the ABC is to place pressure on them to broadcast ‘news’ which is currently circulating amongst social media sites. The decision to follow suit must surely separate credible news agencies from other forms of social media services which simply disseminate information as it becomes available.
Boyd, D (2010). “Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications.” In Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (ed. Zizi Papacharissi), pp. 39-58.
Barclay, P. (2019). ABC Radio. [online] ABC Radio. Available at: https://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/pelQRGY0mL?play=true [Accessed 1 Apr. 2019].
Green, J., and Jenkins, H. 2011. “Spreadable Media. How Audiences Create Value and Meaning in a Networked Economy.” In The Handbook of Media Audiences edited by Virginia Nightingale, 109-127. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Kelly, F. (2019). Social media companies face backlash after New Zealand terror attack. [online] Radio National. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/social-media-backlash-after-new-zealand-attack/10914958 [Accessed 1 Apr. 2019].
McMurtrie, C. (2019). Reporting a massacre: Why the ABC didn’t share the shooter’s ‘manifesto’. [online] ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/about/backstory/news-coverage/2019-03-16/abc-decision-not-to-share-christchurch-shooters-manifesto/10908846 [Accessed 1 Apr. 2019].