Tag Archives: protest

Happy 5th Birthday Twitter!


We came across the word ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was.” – Founder Jack Dorsey

Conception

It’s five years ago this weekend that developers at the Odeo podcasting company in San Francisco began work on their new project: an SMS service allowing individuals to communicate with a small group. On 21 March 2006  Jack Dorsey published the first ever Twitter message:

“just setting up my twttr”

The Early Years

Originally a service for Odeo employees, Twitter went public on 15 July, 2006. But its lucky break would have to wait another year – for the South by Southwest (SXSW)  film, music and interactive festival in Austin, Texas, held in March 2007. During the event, delegates’ tweets were streamed live on prominent plasma screens by Twitter employees, and the service quickly became flavour of the conference, with overall daily tweets increasing from 20,000 to 60,000. By February 2010, that number was 50 million.

Twitter Today

Its breezy name belies a medium that’s shown huge social and political strength. Although the majority of messages posted are indeed banal chit-chat, some of the traffic has had a big impact. The most obvious example is the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, in which Twitter was deployed by protestors to rally and communicate with each other on a mass scale, and to subvert the authorities’ crackdowns  by enabling protestors to share information directly with journalists.

Twitter at five has certainly remained true to its roots: unlike Facebook it remains resolutely a fountain of ‘short bursts of information’. But many are far from inconsequential.

CARON BELL

Changing the Nature of Protests


There have been protests almost as long as there have been people, but how has the rapid expansion of UCG technology changed the way we make our point? Certainly, tools such as Facebook and Twitter can impact on the speed of a protest and its contageous potential, but they have also brought about a far more fundamental change.

Changing Leadership

Speaking at the Frontline Club on 15 February, BBC Newsnight’s Economics Editor Paul Mason argued that protests have now gone horizontal. New technology has allowed a peer network to replace hierarchies – no longer do people have to cluster around Scargills and Pankhursts to make their voices heard. As with the Middle Eastern protests, people on the street now communciate powerful ideas to each other – across streets and across international borders, without traditional leadership.

The End of a Tradition

Indeed, attempts to preserve conventional power structures in recent protests have failed miserably: the NUS (a traditional, top-down organisation) had planned an A to B march on 10 November in protest at the tuition fee hikes. It started well enough, but as people found their own multi-media voice the march began to break up, with the protest at Millbank taking on a life of its own. As glass was smashed, NUS leader Aaron Porter’s leadership collapsed: people were organising themselves outside of the traditional hierarchy.

New Roles for Journalists

This UGC-inspired de-centralisation poses new challenges for journalists. No longer can we turn up to a violent protest and ask to speak to the person in charge. The Middle Eastern protests of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya lacked any such leadership even at the start, and consequently lacked traditional narrative. With myriad people taking to the streets, journalists are left to contruct their own story, which requires a new respect for authentic voices. Suddenly we need to engage with the grassroots community. Any new hierarchies emerge democratically and ephemerally on the likes of Twitter – and journalists have to keep up with the hashtag deluge, just to make sense of the situation. Political activism has become open-sourced – and journalism a whole lot harder.

CARON BELL

User-generated news: pitfalls and possibilities


User-generated content is becoming more and more central to news-telling. But over at MaYoMo.com they’re building a community of mobilised, networked users that they hope will create its own global news agenda. Your2pence spoke to Christina Bozhidarova, a community manager at the site to see what their endeavour teaches us about UGC.


 

The site was founded in 2009 by two enterprising Bulgarians, Hristo Alexiev and Ilian Milinov. MaYoMo and stands for Map Your Moments, and fittingly, one of the site’s main features is a giant map of the world with pegs linking to the latest news-related video content.




UGc vs. Citizen Journalism

Bozhidarova says the site was envisaged as an online platform where ‘ordinary people without professional journalism skills would be able to share mobile video and photo content’. This tallies with how Matthew Eltringham from the BBC Hub defines UGC – something made ‘accidentally’ by ‘dentists, doctors and shopkeepers’.

But Bozhidarova says the site’s main contributors are ‘civic activists, freelance journalists, bloggers, journalism students, photojournalists, filmmakers & NGO’s from all over the world’. So, they aren’t all ordinary people – many are aspiring or even practising journalists. And the videos are listed under the tab ‘Citizen Journalism’ implying something more conscious, conscientious or even constructed.

If we follow Eltringham’s definition, MaYoMo’s videos are not UGC, but citizen journalism. Bozhidarova, though, doesn’t see the two as mutually exclusive: ‘citizen journalism is a form of UGC… made by non-professionals’ she says. But of course, many of MaYoMo’s contributors are professionals, or on their way to being so.

It’s easy to get into a pickle over this. Drawing a distinction between an ordinary user and a citizen journalist becomes impossible at MaYoMo because the site plays host to both. But it’s interesting that MaYoMo originally wanted to be a place for an ordinary users, but, by its own admission, became a place for aspiring and professional journalists. As a specialist community rather than a mainstream media outlet, MaYoMo can hardly expect to attract many people who don’t already have an active interest in video journalism.

Anti-establishment

The non-mainstream nature of UGC means MaYoMo has attracted a specific type of content. Bozhidarova cites ‘the political protests and demonstrations in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon’ as particularly popular videos. Marches and demos make up a large percentage of the content, perhaps because MaYoMo market themselves as champions of ‘freedom of speech and expression’.

Watch the video of protests in Albania

The prevalence of this sort of material is in many ways a result of access; protests can be filmed  easily and often have serious, violent consequences but they rarely make headline news in countries other than their own. MaYoMo, as an international platform, fills this gap.

We also see MaYoMo’s place among the demonstrators in its coverage of the 2009 UN Climate Change talks in Copenhagen. The summit attracted a large number of activists and protesters and MaYoMo created a ‘virtual rally‘ online inviting users to ‘voice their opinion’ on the talks.


Bozhidarove insists that ‘everyone was free to express their views, thoughts and beliefs without the means of news propaganda’, making the channel a vehicle for climate-skeptics as much as eco-activists. I found only 2 climate-skeptic videos (here and here) out of about 500. Clearly the activists had the upper hand with so many people on the ground, but this again shows how UGC here leans towards a people-driven, anti-establishment mode.


do we care about quality anymore?

Hardly any of the footage on MaYoMo is of broadcast quality, Most of it is mobile phone or handheld camera quality. The films are shaky, grainy, and often unedited. But footage from MaYoMo has made its way onto The Observers, a UGC-led site and TV programme on France 24,  The Huffington Post, Now Public and into the hands of the BBC. Clearly for these news organisations, shoddy camerawork is not a problem if there’s no high-quality footage available and a film shows events from a privileged, front-line position.

But Bozhidarova goes a step further. She says MaYoMo encourages their contributors to send raw, unedited material. ‘Raw, original video is very valuable nowadays’ she says, ‘it gives the impression to the viewers as if they have witnessed the event themselves’. Peter Berghammer said back in 2007 that ‘the audience for low resolution, small format video is exploding’ despite the growth of High-Definition, and he held user-generated content to blame.

The low resolution, small-scale video of YouTube provides an intimacy, immediacy and inspiration… that exists because of its low resolution.
Peter Berghammer

Berghammer said that low quality UGC provides ‘intimacy’ and ‘immediacy’. It creates a sense of being right in the heart of the action but only shows a limited perspective – a far cry from the Sky News helicopters. UGC is cheap, fast, fresh and focused. It will never replace the mainstream, but with help from sites like MaYoMo, it’s finding it can offer something different and more and more essential.

HARRIET BIRD

 

 

Can UGC topple the regime?


For almost a week now the Egyptian protests have  dominated the news agenda.

Non stop rolling images of burning trucks, marches and adrenaline fuelled Egyptians (while the army and police look on) have taken centre stage as  tens of thousands take to the streets to protest against Hosni Mubarak’s thirty year presidency.

Courtesy of Egyptian citizen and friend Islam Harouf

Old protest v New protest

Social protest in Egypt and the wider Middle East is nothing new, but this time the internet and UGC has played a vital part in organising protestors and relaying real time images to the world’s media.

In Iran in 1979 for example the proliferation of tapes of Khoemini preaching did much to whip the Iranians into a frenzy. In 1990, the Gulf War was the first time satellites were used to produce real time images of fighting and conflict. In 2011, social networking sites, particularly twitter, facebook and youtube as well as camera and video phones have been instrumental in keeping us up-to-date as well as organising protesters.

Courtesy of Egyptian citizen and friend Islam Harouf

The April 6th movement for example, by far the most active and well known of all the protest movements has used blogs, facebook and twitter for years to spread the news of the protests and mobilize people.

And Sherine Barakat, interviewed on BBC news said of Egypt, “Today every person is a journalist.” It is no secret that Egyptians love the internet and that postings of film, images and twitter made by ordinary Egyptians armed with camera phones has appeared on the pages of the BBC, al-jazeera and other news agencies and channels across the world as well as keeping friends, family and other loved ones in the loop.

Courtesy of Egyptian citizen and friend Islam Harouf

In fact the internet has proved to be so dangerous that the government disconnected it on Thursday evening. Thats 80 million people offline. All April6th correspondence ends then.

What does this mean? Several things. The Government is scared.  Mubarak has realised that pictures are powerful.Violence could erupt – after all who is left monitoring unfolding events.

Or it could be the final nail in Mubarak’s coffin. The Egyptian people don’t look like they are backing down, but so far neither does he.

masr inshallah kulu qweies (Egypt, god willing all will be good)