Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Social Media Fantasy

In the midst of the so-called “digital revolution” leading to revolution by digital technology, there is a growing, but unfortunate view that political activism can somehow escape the mud and grime of actual face-to-face politics and the dust and noise and haze of mass mobilisation to effect change.

There is also a growing body of opinion asserting the gradual disappearance of journalism in favour of some kind of hybridised system of free or cheap and ubiquitous methods of acquiring and disseminating news and information, secure from the rigours of professional newsgathering.

There is little doubt that the impact of new mobile technologies on mass, social and political mobilisation has been phenomenal. But there is also no denying the fact that in all the instances currently being cited as examples, there has been the indispensable impact of courageous men and women, on the streets and in the newsroom, who have chosen not to remain nameless and faceless behind a Twitter nomme de plume or fictitious Facebook profile or constantly changing mobile number.

In all instances in the Middle East and North Africa, the illusion of “change” has now been met with the reality of pathologically authoritarian models of governance the new validating elites with all their technological assets are incapable of adequately addressing.

The impact of social media activism has simply not changed the world as we have always known it. It has perhaps changed some terms of engagement. But, for the most part, traditional “mainstream” media have been brought into sharper functional focus with plain, old-fashioned professional and operational values.

General adherence to the timeless journalistic principles of balance, fairness and transparency continues to be the pillar upon which the credible means of achieving real social and political change reside.

In my view, there is no “war” between the social and traditional media. They travel along their own orbits, sometimes colliding, but often criss-crossing each other in same and opposite directions. In the process, the potential for complementary relations is abundant and strikes at the heart of a way forward.

The value of “citizen journalism” does not in any way, in this context, invalidate the contribution of true journalists who continue to play a decisive, professional role in interpreting our realities wherever we are. But they are not the same creatures and are not interchangeable features of the widening mass media landscape.

For sure, the protections accorded journalists extend to everyone engaged in the process of journalism and they all enjoy the umbrella of free expression. The suggestion that one is capable of replacing the other is, however, a fantasy we would do well to dispel and is, quite frankly, a nonsense led by people who do not know better.