In my recent Couchiching Conversation in Toronto, I hoped to spark a discussion on how social media is reshaping how our basic human need for news. We are immersed in media today, both from established media outlets and from each other.
The amount of material shared on social media is astounding. A hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second, 140 million daily messages are sent on Twitter and 80 million stories, links, photos and videos are shared on Facebook every day.
Alongside the top-down, one-way communication system of mass media is a bottom-up, many-to-many system of social media. What it means for news is that whereas once the most trusted name in news may have been a veteran anchor on the evening TV news, today it may be a twenty-something university graduate tweeting from Tahrir Square in Cairo called Gigi Ibrahim.
During those tumultuous weeks in Egypt in January and February in 2011, Gigi became one of the voices of the revolution as she documented the protests using social media. Interviewed by the New York Times on January 27, Gigi explained that she was “trying to spread accurate information and paint a picture at the ground for people who aren’t here, via Twitter and Facebook.”
Of course, she was just one of the many voices coming from Egypt – journalists and media organisations provided vital updates as events unfolded in Tahrir Square. Research into the role of social media during the Egyptian uprising shows how established journalists shared the media space with a parallel set of opinion leaders – bloggers, activists and intellectuals.
We are living through a time when a hierarchical media system in the hands of the few is colliding with a networked system open to all. When two worlds collide, it can lead to the flourishing of new forms of life that can happily co-exist and nourish each other. At other times, the media world of the 20th century sits uneasily alongside its new companion of the 21st century.
Social media is reshaping who we get the news from and what kind of news we get, as well as when and where we get it. What hasn’t changed is our need for timely, reliable and accurate news and information to make informed decisions about how we run our lives.
(Cross-post from the Couchiching Institute)