Social Media and the Future of Social Justice Journalism

(KJB 101 Assessment 3)

Previously, traditional journalism was the only source of information accessible for a large audience. As the usage of social media increased, more sources have surfaced; anyone can provide information to anyone. User-generated content in social media can be said to provide a different perspective to conventional mass media outlets. Social media is therefore a significant part of the future of social justice journalism.

Recently, there has been a large shift in coverage of policing, criminal justice issues and race and this has largely been fuelled by social media. The coverage and subsequent discussion has led to more awareness about the issues affecting minority groups. While it appears that social media is an increasingly popular platform for social justice journalism, it also seems to stifle discussion on serious issues. This suggests that the as the use of social media increases, the population is spiralling into silence. It appears that social media creates an atmosphere where people do not want to publicise their minority views for fear of tension within their social circle. Additionally, some say that social media does little to increase access to information. An informed citizenry relies on the public’s awareness of important issues and on their willingness to discuss these issues with people around them.[i] With more users of social media than ever before,[ii] it is necessary to consider its role in future of social justice journalism.

Violence against Black people in the United States has been a pervasive issue throughout history. However, a recent, widespread public use of mobile phone cameras and social media sharing has brought the issue directly into the spotlight. Since 2013, videos, photos and Tweeted narratives of violent encounters between White police and unarmed Black people have disseminated widely though news and social media, galvanising public rage. [iii] This has led to the creation the most prodigious American protest movement of the century to date; #BlackLivesMatter.[iv] The activists and citizen journalists innovatively combined the advantages of social media with an effort to efficiently spark protests in each city after a police shooting occurs.[v] Social media in social justice journalism has been instrumental in giving citizens evidence and voice.

Video of interview with Dr Lee Duffield

Figure 1 [vi]

 Videos of Black people like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Samuel Dubose, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin being killed by police officers allowed the public to see what really happened. Social media can act as a source of live, raw information. It can quickly drown the spurious media narratives in an ocean of tweets,[vii] which is promising for the future of social justice journalism. “The ability to record has gotten so prevalent that police can no longer count on their account to be the truth,” Pittsburgh professor, Mr Harris said.[viii] In another incisive comment, law professor at Georgetown University, Paul D. Butler comments: “The videos are smoking-gun evidence.”

“Both literally because they are very graphic, which generates outrage, and figuratively, because people believe their own eyes.”[ix] Twitter and Facebook have become the documentary vehicle for Black Lives Matter activists.[x]  Social media allows them to become social justice citizen journalists, capturing the protests and police responses as trustworthy evidence.[xi]

Related article: The Videos That Are Putting Race and Policing Into Sharp Relief

The general public, journalists and activists used social media to spread and increase visibility of the videos, photos and tweets documenting the incident. [xiii] Social media also provided avenues where the affected minority could express their opinions, share their experience rather than have local media explain their struggle. Nekima Levy­-Pounds, professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law said: “most of the reporters are white, and their managers are white, and the audiences they’re reporting for are mostly white.

“Therefore, their reporting reinforces a very twisted view of protests, emphasising disruption more than the issues, like chronic police misconduct, something white audiences have almost no personal experience with.”[xiv] The social media element of the movement has facilitated the un-airbrushed coverage of the issue of institutional racism in policing and criminal justice. Many statistics and people of colour have been telling this story for many years. However, when a video shows a police officer tasering a Black man they just killed, the issue is brought to the eye of the viewer.

 Figure 2 [xv]

“If you are pursuing social justice, you have to explain, and you want to explain yourself to someone who will listen.
“Social media will let you do that,” says Senior Lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology and former European Correspondent for the BBC, Dr Lee Duffield.

The confronting videos, photos and tweets provides visceral and infallible proof of a problem the majority have downplayed for too long. Social media is giving voice to the marginalised, giving the citizens a chance to be their own reporters. It has provided another dimension to activism –  a digital face.[xvii] This is also appears to be the promising direction social conscience journalism is moving in.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the possibility that social media users are less likely to discuss social policy issues, bringing into effect the “spiral of silence.”[xviii] Pew Research conducted surveys about the efficacy of social media in social justice journalism, following Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of widespread government surveillance of Americans’ phone and email records. Some users also say that social media does not increase exposure to different perspectives on informative content. Social media’s role in the spiral of silence and limiting exposure to less-popular views calls into question its sustainability a tool in social conscience journalism.

In relevance to opinion expression, it was found that individuals would rather concur with the general opinion expressed in their social network rather than voice a minority opinion.[xix] The lack of expression was due to a fear of isolation from their social circle.[xx] Many say that the internet has given a voice to the marginalised in society, that those who dissent from popular opinion have a variety of ways to express them. From Facebook to Twitter, opinion-expression platforms are not lacking. But as the managing editor of U.S. News & World Report, Lee Rainie pointed out: “Those who use Facebook were more only willing to share their views if they thought their followers agreed with them.”[xxi] Furthermore, this pattern persisted in offline exchanges, ironically rendering the opinion-expressing platforms into obstacles to sharing ideas.

 [Audio of Excerpt of Interview with Dr Lee Duffield]

Figure 3 [xxii]

“Publishing by yourself can be quite lonely, even in a group.
“You can be intimidated – that’s probably not going to go away,” Dr Lee Duffield summarises. This however, could be a positive trend. Popular hashtags for the Ferguson incident were #Ferguson, #MikeBrown and #BlackLivesMatter. In a qualitative examination on these hashtags, a majority of the tweets share the view that the officer’s shooting was unjustifiable.[xxiii] There were few that expressed the opposing opinion. This lack of contrary opinion demonstrates how the dominant opinion can take over; Illustrating a spiral of silence in which the prevailing opinion achieves more traction because people are reserved about expressing their opposing views. As seen in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the spiral of silence created by social media can serve as a major force in social justice journalism.

While it is evident that the dissemination of online media has revolutionised how people stay informed on current events. The amount of content has increased exponentially, but this has also resulted in selective exposure. Little effort is required to create a narrow media feed that is accordance with personal opinions.[xxiv] While being in a social-justice-centered niche can foster awareness and growth, it can lead to other problems. Claire Miller of The New York Times comments: “the internet, it seems, is contributing to the polarisation of America, as people surround themselves with people who think like them and hesitate to say anything different. Internet companies magnify the effect, by tweaking their algorithms to show us more content from people who are similar to us.”[xxv] With complex codes and algorithms aimed to show users the most agreeable content, social media do not usually show the user opinions outside of their comfort zone. As a result, people can lose touch with the perspectives, and opinions on issues being discussed by society. This could be detrimental to the goal of social justice journalism as citizens need to understand issues holistically in order to progress.

Expression of opinion is a necessary part of societal development; opinion expression underpins a democracy. In today’s social-media-centric world, opinion expression often occurs on social media platforms. Users can Tweet their fury at the New York Police Department for killing Eric Garner post their non-controversial view on Edward Snowden’s revelations on Facebook. By examining the effect of social media on the reportage and discussion of current, socio-political events, it is becoming clearer that social media has an important role in the future of social justice journalism. It is evident where this tool can act as an opinion-expression platform and where it can to improve to allow for more exposure to differing opinions. Dr Duffield aptly concludes: “I feel optimistic, though I think it’s still early days. It can evolve well. And you’re going to get more communication, including people running social justice movements, and we certainly need those. It’s starting to show possibility, it’s starting to show strength.”

 Word count: 1554

Endnotes

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Media Professional Biography: Slavoj Žižek

[KJB102 Assessment one]

 

As technology develops and the media industry evolves (Baume, 2009), traditional models of professional communication become restrictive. Those who adapt to the changes, however, become a part of the growing, transforming industry. The success of media professionals like Slavoj Žižek can be attributed to the versatility modern communication provides. Through analysing Žižek’s career in terms of media convergence and globalisation, as well as his contribution to Fourth Estate and Public Sphere, it will be evident that working in conjunction to the changing media industry is complementary to success as a media professional.

Slavoj Žižek, born March 21, 1949, is a Slovene philosopher, cultural theorist and author. His work addresses themes in psychoanalysis, popular culture and politics. For Žižek, the ideologies of the Communist Party were insinuated into much of Slovenian media and art(Advameg, 2016) As a consequence, Žižek interested himself in Western popular culture (Myers, 2003) and studied philosophy at the University of Ljubljana and the University of Paris-VIII. In 1990, he was the candidate of Slovenia’s Liberal Democratic Party, but failed to win a place in the four-person collective presidency (Myers, 2003). From then on he has served as visiting professor at numerous universities in Europe and the United States.

The broad scope of Žižek’s theorising, his intentionally provocative style, and the way his work is leavened by humour has made him both a popular figure in the Western left and media professional of particular interest to me. In his studies, he refers to popular culture, rather than examining topics customarily studied by philosophers. He delves into contemporary issues in politics and culture, propagating his work by employing various and several facets of modern communication. His work has been distinguished by a distance to the orthodoxies of philosophy and social studies, yet he is still able to have such success in his field because he operates with the evolving media industry. By using the discussion of popular culture and events as a vehicle for his ideas, then taking advantage of the different elements of each media platform to communicate them, Žižek is, in my opinion, is a noteworthy media and communication professional.

Žižek’s success as a media professional has been promulgated through media convergence, the blurring of boundaries between elements in media systems and platforms (Turow 2009, 153). Žižek makes use of media convergence to appeal to an evolving audience. He integrates the sometimes unappealing, dense work of preceding philosophers into examples drawn from decades of popular films, songs and books that the general public know well (Myers, 2003). In his documentary, A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012), Žižek appears transplanted into scenes of different films and analyses how they underpin prevalent ideologies. From discussing Nazi Germany’s propaganda epics to the political undertones of Jaws, Žižek demonstrates a blurring of boundaries by merging subjects that would usually be confined to separate media platforms. He combines history, culture, entertainment, and politics to communicate his ideas, with each subject drawing in a different audience. In his book, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2002), Žižek dissects September 11 and the War on Terror with post-modern theory as seen in The Matrix movie, which further exemplifies Žižek’s use of media convergence in the cross-over of books, movies and news broadcast. The convergence of media has helped shaped Žižek’s career; capitalising on the different means of information reception provided by each media platform, his work attracts and accommodates a wide and diverse audience.

Žižek’s career has also been influenced by globalisation, the expanding scale, growing magnitude and speeding up of social interaction which in turn links distant communities and expands the reach of media across the globe (Flew 2007, 67). There were dramatic shifts of focus in Žižek’s work after 1990; he began to include current global events in his studies, notably the Iraq War (Parker, 2014). His work also became increasingly available online. By addressing topics of wide interest and expanding the accessibility of his work, Žižek expanded his audience across the globe. Since 1989, Žižek has launched over 15 monographs. He writes in Slovene, French and German, as well as having his work translated in 20 languages (Advameg, 2016). The effect is an increased transmission of information, an important aspect of globalisation. Apart from his post at the Institute for Social Sciences in Ljubljana, he is visiting professor at seemingly every reputable university: New York, Chicago, Princeton, and Columbia (Myers, 2003). He is studied in symposiums at Melbourne University, in film screenings at Sydney University, and in cultural theory studies at the University of Queensland. Žižek is often mentioned in The Canberra Times, The Sun Herald, and The Australian (Berg, 2016). It is clear Žižek’s career has been influenced by globalisation, in that he works in several languages, in numerous cities, across different media platforms. In doing so, Žižek has managed to effectively distribute his work and secure a reach of media across the world, linking distant communities into a global village.

Žižek addresses provoking subjects. His work is an agency for public discussion, educating and allowing citizens to participate in debates which would otherwise remain unheard of. The purpose of the fourth estate is to monitor those in public office, on the premise that powerful institutions have to be prevented from overstepping their bounds (Coronel, 2007). While running for presidency, he used his media coverage to share his leftist view with the previously communist country (Myers, 2003). In an essay, Five Years After: the Fire in the Minds of Men (2006), Žižek points to the irony that September 11 has resulted in the legitimisation of torture. This demonstrates Žižek’s contribution to the fourth estate; he links governments with its constituents by exposing truths and making citizens sensitive to the fact that powers are overstepping their bounds. Žižek illustrates the incident with the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as an example of the U.S. using a self-serving spectacle to instil a permanent state of emergency in citizens, allowing the enforcement of discipline and control. Žižek acts as a reporter and stresses the importance of demanding democratic transparency in State politics, especially in combating terror. His work has enabled the public to be aware of and see how powerful institutions have manipulated citizens, integrating them into the political nation and promoting participation in the public sphere.

Žižek’s provocative style of work and contribution to the fourth estate inevitably elicits the discussion of the public. The public sphere is a domain of our social life where public opinion on matters of general interest can be formed, expressed and publicised (McKee, 2005, 4). Žižek’s work deals with issues of the State and political practice in “democratic” societies; issues that affect the public. By disseminating his work across several media platforms, Žižek facilitates a space of global discussion. Often engaging in interviews available on YouTube, he allows viewers to publish and view comments (Žižekian Studies, 2016). He visits universities and speaks in conferences, which promotes audience contribution. The International Žižek Studies Conference is a prime example of how Žižek contributes to the public sphere; he creates physical spaces where the public can gather and interact (Žižek Studies Conference, 2015). Though he does not run a Facebook page himself, there are various public groups, one with almost 20,000 members (Žižek Studies, 2016). These groups act as an agency for public discussion as members can post or read insights on his work. Zizekupdates, a popular fan-run twitter account posts links to his Žižek’s newest works, which are then retweeted with comments and opinions (Slavoj Žižek Updates, 2016). Through his confronting subject matter, Žižek influences and challenges his audience to think about society and convention, things that directly affect them and yet remain unquestioned. This stimulates public discussion and he provides a platform for it, using the internet and face-to-face conferences.

Slavoj Žižek has established a successful career, continuously adapting to and capitalising on the changing media industry. The Times Literary Supplement describes him as “one of the most innovative and exciting contemporary thinkers of the left” (2016), which for me, is what journalism and communication should be about. I think his creativity in delivering his work and his ability to communicate it are two of the most important skills to have as a journalist. He inspires me to develop critical ideas and be more versatile in presenting them. His publicity has been attributed to his use of media convergence and globalisation as it has allowed him to reach his diverse, international audience. This encourages me to take advantage of technology and of my own skills as a trilingual person. It is clear that he is a key contributor to the Fourth Estate which allows us to engage in the Public Sphere and discuss significant societal issues. I deeply admire how Žižek prioritises educating people on significant issues, as I find this vital to society. In analysing Žižek’s career, it is demonstrated that working with the changing media industry is imperative to being a successful media professional.

 

Slavoj-Zizek-WSBC

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