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Social Media Soldiers

Social media, could you live without it? Whether it’s for sharing embarrassing photographs with friends, organising trips to the pub (embarrassing photographs to follow the morning after), ‘poking’, ‘liking’ or ‘sharing’, social media has become a norm in our day to day lives. But have you ever considered you could save a life by using social media, or that social media has even caused deaths? I thought not. The introduction of social media has changed the way we live, the way we communicate and even the people we speak to. Although most of us, begrudgingly, admit a fair amount of our time on social media is spent looking at Kim Kardashian’s post baby pictures or revelling in a good old Z-List celebrity vs. Z-List celebrity argument (just me then?), we often don’t realise the power social media can have. Just earlier this year, fighters for Al-Qa’ida recruited British citizens to become terrorists of their own country via a social media sites and contrarily, charities such as British Red Cross have set a president in using social media to encourage people to selflessly donate thousands of pounds, provide aid and support the victims of poverty and war stricken countries. It’s hard to imagine that people around the world are using social media in such powerful way,be this good or bad. Understandably, Rihanna’s Instagram feed is engrossing, but it’s time we made a stand and started using social media to make a positive change. It’s not just celebrities that have taken to social media, even News Stations, Reporters and Photojournalists can’t get enough of Twitter. Whether they are telling us about a cat being rescued from a tree, David Cameron’s every changing policy or reporting on a day in Iraq, News Stations want your

opinion on every report. No matter how big or small the story, you can guess the #hashtag is usually involved. However, I think I can safely say most of us have not been to a war zone, or fought in one for that matter, so how necessary is our opinion on the events of war? It is debatable that, with the introduction of 24 hour rolling news our opinion may merely be a ‘time filler’ and an attempt at enticing more viewers to otherwiserepetitive news commentary. Afterall, it is proven audience interest is highest at a time of conflict - the day when The Chelsea Flower Show was big news is over; people no longer crave ‘nice news’. Social media, ‘infotainment’ and 24/7 news are, to name but a few, modern news terms that would leave our Grandparents baffled (don’t even get them started on tweeting or heaven forbid, poking). But as the generation affected by the outcomes of war and the people with the potential power to make a change, social media and its placement within the news is now our concern.

This month we gave our readers the chance to tell us exactly what they think about war to social media, what they have been tweeting, sharing, and all things in-between! Here’s what they had to say... 1

Hannah* is a student of French and Italian, who admits her idea of ‘current affairs’ is being up-to-date on who Harry Style’s newest girlfriend is (that’s harder than it sounds). As a university student, her social media accounts are over-run with photographs, memories and activity from social events but we wanted her opinion on the slightly more serious aspects of social media. News stations now use social media within their reports to demonstrate the public’s opinion, why do you think this is? “The social media has become a phenomenon the recent years which means it’s easier to access the footage and information for yourself now, rather than relying on professionals. Journalists feel the need to push the boundaries to compete with the amount of viewers a Youtube video can accumulate in a matter of minutes. Rather than competing, I think they have realised by using Youtube videos within the news they will generate more viewers. If you can’t beat them, join them!” Do you feel we are desensitised towards what we see on the news, no matter how shocking? “Definitely! If we saw some of the footage we are exposed to on the TV in real life, we would be traumatised. But yet we watch them on our screens each day and act casually towards them, we’re just detached from anything on the TV. We’ve become desensitised yet still demand to be exposed to the truth, so to meet our entertainment needs the news has in turn has become more horrific to meet our demands and keep us watching. I don’t know if this means were more shocked, or more desensitised.” Sharing social media is uncontrollable and unregulated; with this in mind, should there be stricter regulations set by social media companies to ensure shocking material cannot be shared as easily?


“Social media companies should have stricter restrictions with regards to age limits, however there isn’t a distinguished line between what is deemed fit for social media and what is not.” Social media influence has sparked a development in international and global news, in an already media saturated world. The age of 24/7 news has sadly led to the trivialisation of complex stories of war. We are shown 30second clips of the aftermaths of a bombing. A bombing which has taken months of planning, with so many venomous beliefs which have a detrimental effect on the way we live, and the people’s lives which are lost. The complexity of a story cannot be summed up into a snippet of material with the expectation of a resolution or the prospect that today’s generation will create a change given the dismal information we are fed. Zoe* is a fellow student studying Global and International Development and unlike many other people of Zoe’s age, she is actively up to date with current affairs and goes out of her way to seek information on global events. She is part of a charity named Simon on the Streets, a charity which aims to educate and make people aware of the daily difficulties homeless people face and to improve the quality of life for anyone living in the streets. ‘Simon on the Streets’ tackle an issue which is relatively taboo, using social media and attention grabbing tactics such as flash mobs to reach the public and to quash the stigma attached to the homeless. News stations have begun using mobile phone footage of war zones taken by citizen journalists, what is your opinion of this? “To shock the public into what’s going on around the world is a good tool to make people sit up, listen, and do something about it. Otherwise, they’re brushed aside. To get a reaction these days people need to feel really strongly about something, sadly sometimes the only way to make this

happen is by showing something they don’t want to see or to image happening around the world. Provoking a reaction is the first step to making a change occur!” A common reason for people wanting less, or more liberal regulations and their desire to have more input into documenting current affairs is because trust in the government, politicians and journalists has diminished in recent years due to notorious scandals. With the use of our mobile phones only, we have become the ‘citizen journalist’ and can document, video, photograph and share events on a global scale at the click of a button.

the truth of certain high profile government conspiracies, something I see being shared on my News Feed quite often. I think it’s useful for certain things to be shared and exposed to the public, but on the other hand you have to consider the reality that if the government didn’t keep secrets, countries would be in uproar and panic stricken.”

We would all agree, the most devastating news story to emerge within not only recent years, but our lifetime, is the coverage of 9/11. The traumatic video footage from that day has left an imprint on people’s lives around the world, most of which was takDo you think there should be better regulaen from by-standers. This sparked the first tions on the footage we are exposed to? major use of ‘citizen journalism’ as news “As I’ve mentioned before, to get a response stations used footage, taken by the public, from the public they must be shocked. I do using amateur recording devices. The matethink the footage, however disturbing it may rial taken on 9/11 has since, however, crehave been, was essential for the investiated a whirlwind of conspiracy theories and gation into Lee Rigby’s death and the trial subsequent backlash against the governwhich followed. However, my concerns with ment as people still cannot fathom how an this type of media coverage are that it is the atrocity of this scale could happen. And, you root problem to racial and religious discrimguessed it; social media has been the outlet ination. Many people focus in on the black for these conspiracy theories. The power of and ethnic minority offenders as ‘the probsocial media is often under-estimated, yet lem’ and use it to spread racial abuse and have you ever considered how different the stigmatisation. day of 9/11 may have panned out if social A major problem with this form of coverage media has existed then? is that we essentially categorise countries People within the towers maybe would have and religions on the actions made by a mibeen able to tweet, share images and alnority of people, and judge as a whole by low us to understand the events which to their actions.” us now, are just too horrific to imagine. And that last phone call to loved ones, image As we know, you have a strong interest in how different that may have been with the politics and current affairs but what do you use of social media. It, for sure, would have think the general public’s overall quashed or confirmed on-going conspiracy opinion of politicians and the government theories. are when it their handling of war? Media played a key part in the evidential as“People are quick to insult governments, but pect of twin towers, and in giving us an evthis can sometimes just be ignorance toer-lasting mental image of what happened. wards the true problem. There is something After all, I think I speak for everyone around suspicious about the events of 9/11 and the the world in saying we all remember where relationship between the US and Al-Qaida we were and what we were doing when we – social media has been used to express all saw the breaking news of 9/11, and it’s in four corners of what could have happened. itself demonstrates the impact media can Wikileaks is a prime example of exposing have.


Do you feel the news coverage of war has become progressively more shocking? “I think as viewers we demand to see the harsh realities of current affairs. We’ve adapted as humans, even in the past 20 years, we are much more exposed and are increasingly intrigued by things we can’t imagine or understand happening around the world.” Ben* 24, is a Teacher and former graduate of a Sports Coaching degree. He frequently uses social media but says, “I don’t go out of my way to stay up to date [on current affairs], just whatever is convenient really… Mainly reading the paper on the way to work”. Do you prefer to hear a professional opinion only in the news or do you value hearing the views of the public? “I do prefer to hear the opinions of professionals. Although it is interesting to hear the opinions of the public, some can be uneducated – I don’t think it has a good effect to show that on the national news…” What do you think to the regulations set for news footage, do you think they should be stricter? “I approve of the use of non-edited, true, documented footage as it allows you to make your own opinion. Any footage shown on the news should never be edited to cut out parts of the story, no matter how shocking we may find it. News is shocking, but it is wrong to change it. It’s raw, and everyone should preserve the right to see the true facts and evidence.” Recently, Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof spoke out about the way the Internet and Media is changing the way we view war entirely explaining how the most profound contribution social tools can make is to provide insight into other people’s views create a platform for their opinions, no matter

how valid their opinions and theories may be. That’s scary actually, especially when people can have such personal and volatile views towards war.” and life experiences. The Internet has the irrepressible power of connecting people, joining people of similar views and sharing thoughts with people you could never previously connect with. In most cases, it is a spectacularly empowering aspect of social media however, in worst cases it can create evil on an uncontainable scale. Do you think social media works against the government when reporting war? “Social media can create a ‘mob-like’ mentality very quickly and turn people against the government. Social media allows people with the same views to connect and When people view news through a television screen, it acts as a barrier which desensitises the situation and trivialises events because we can’t physically see it and as selfish as it may be, does not affect our own lives. We seem to be increasingly only concerned by what affects our daily lives, how many likes our Instagram photos have and watching reality TV. War has to be reported in a shocking manner, primarily this is to make us sit up and take action, and secondly the disturbing thought that news has to now compete with soap operas and dinner-time game shows for viewers. Why do you think news stations feel the need to report and show more shocking news today? “It’s completely about ratings, there is such pressure for news stations to give the viewers what they want. When people can get all the information online now, that can’t be good for news stations ratings. It’s all about entertainment rather than the integrity of information, and by showing the viewer’s tweets or footage - that keeps them watching. People enjoy the thought of being involved in the news, and they crave to be shocked.” 5

Do you feel everyone has the right to post images, opinions and information about war on social media sites? Or do you think it should be regulated to journalists, politicians and the government? “I feel everyone has the right, but it is vital they educate themselves on the subject and research before expressing themselves on a global platform. Like I said before, it’s easy to create cult-like groups of people with the same uneducated opinions on social media sites. It’s not healthy for anyone to be reading that and to be swayed by opinions that have no weight. Saying that, how do you regulate that? That’s the problem with social media sites.” Hannah* is a recent graduate in English Literature who runs a business and has a keen interest in current affairs. She uses social media to promote her business so she fully understands the impact sharing thoughts and opinions can have on others. What do you think to mobile phone footage of war zones taken by the public being used within the news? “It’s brilliant – this is the footage that beforehand would not have been possible the public to access. Journalists film, protestors film back on their mobile phones, bystanders record what they can see which all creates a more textured dialogue of events than one would have seen on the news before the use of mobile phones.” Has the introduction of social media in the news had a positive or negative effect on the way you view? “Positive, absolutely. As with mobile phone footage, it broadens the dialogue meaning we can now have the opinion of the BBC alongside Joe Bloggs, a celebrity, an MP and a single mother. It a great breakthrough – we now get involved in news stories rather than being passive viewers.” 8

In your opinion, should there be better regulations on social media? “I’d say yes, mainly for Twitter, as a personal user I have, luckily, had no issues with the site but in a business capacity the use of the reporting system has thrown up multiple issues. Twitter does not care and often do not review the reports sent to them. They allow miss use of their site – which is highly influential and therefore breeds mistrust in me.” How much input from social media do you feel is appropriate to use within the news? “As much as possible! We are the news after all – we should be allowed as much input as the BBC investigators and every other top dog who control what we are shown.” As a recent Journalism graduate, David* says he is up to date with current affairs and not only watches the news, but uses social media to find news stories of his own. Do you demand to be in the know or would you rather be unaware of what is happening within war zones? “It’s important that everyone is aware of what is happening as it is often our country that is fighting to solve the problems other countries have. We have a right to know how our country and our taxpayers are contributing towards settling issues and creating a better future for us. I find it hard to understand why people are happy to be blissfully unaware.” Do you think it’s appropriate for mobile phone footage of war zones to be shown on the news? “If the footage succeeds in backing up a story or headline, I think it’s a positive thing. It’s natural that the majority of the time, a citizen will be the first person on the scene in an unexpected disaster. Footage released by news stations and governments only contains footage they want us to see, to make us react the way theywant us to react.

Citizen journalism has the power to erase modern propaganda.” The development of 24/7 news creates a real problem, and that problem is ‘real-time’ news.With the constant stream and demand for information on news channels, journalists are left with no time to edit or filter the information they have. When a journalist does not have the time to check if a source is reliable, or if a story ends up being idle gossip, or a misinterpretation of events, does news then stop fulfilling its duty to report with integrity and honesty? We have to question whether the demand we have for news is so strong, that we would sacrifice the integrity of what we are shown. Since the introduction of 24 hour rolling news channels, do you feel there has been more use of social media to ‘bulk-up stories? “I do believe news channels rely heavily on social media input to fill air time. It can get quite repetitive at times. Over the last few years there has definitely been an increase of Youtube videos and similar social mediums to bulk up news stories.” The resounding opinion from the public demanding to be in the know demonstrates the over-riding passion and enthusiasm of people not only wanting to know the news, but to create the news! One of the spectacular powers of social media is, undeniably, the way they help us find people who have similar interests and experiences. Twitter, Facebook, and all forms of social media enable a small group of people with revolutionary views to find each other and share their views on a worldwide platform. In better cases it can work to form charity events and encourages people to donate to those most in need, and to provide aid to those whose lives have been shattered by the aftermath of war. 10

Social media not only has the power to highlight problems to citizens of their own country. But, more importantly, it highlights struggles to people around the world, which can stimulate change and globally, make a difference. However, in worse cases it can spread evil and create terrorist groups who work to brainwash and recruit innocent and naive citizens, such as the Al-Qa’ida fighters who messaged sent images to British Muslim citizens, some of whom were students, to become terrorists of their own country. Social media is a revolution of modern times, changing the face of war, and creating a drive within a generation, which cannot be stopped. We may not be fighting on the front line but used effectively, social media can act as our armour against war, poverty and suffering, and our platform to spread peace, provide aid and raise awareness of those desperately in need.

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Social Media Soldiers  

The use of social media within news coverage of war. Interviews conducted demonstrating public opinion of news reportage, the use of social...

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