The power of social media could never have been foretold by the Journalism and public relations sector. Its influence has been palpable and inserted a contemporary new layer of communication into the media mix. The rise of citizen journalism has seen an evolving platform for the way breaking news and global events are now covered by everyday citizens with access to a digital device. The speed and scale in which information can be uploaded online has exceeded expectations of the 24 hour, real-time dissemination of news, cycle.
Two-way communication has become a vastly exercised tool on social media and has transformed the journalism and public relations sector. Traditional communication roles of the media have been challenged by the expansion of content. Now, public relations and journalism exist in the form of blogs, podcasts, articles, websites, annual reports, magazines, mobile apps, webcasts, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, Instagram and many more channels.
The two-way symmetric model of communication, crafted in Grunig’sfour models of Public Relations theory, relies on equal two-way communication, mutual understanding and community consultation via feedback from interests held by public and stakeholders. Rather than prolonged communication via post, communicators, public and stakeholders can engage in online forums that put each other in instant, direct contact at the click of a button. The rapid momentum of online communication and social reporting, places immense pressure and power in the hands of citizen journalists.
However, the ultimate drawback of citizen journalism is ironically the most important element of journalism and public relations: trust.
How do you report and manage an evolving crisis you have no control over? How do you regulate the flow and accuracy of information? How do you know the information that is being reported on is true? These are the major issues journalists and public relations professionals face with citizen journalism. It can be a fantastic form of new and improved communication, however its underbelly can be unethical and false. Furthermore, it can feed the spread of what Donald Trump so famously crowned “Fake news.”
Our thirst for 24- hour news has turned our media ecosystem into a flurry of instantaneous, vast and easily accessible stories. As a result, the primary values of journalism and public relations; trust, ethics, facts, objectivity and transparency have been compromised to meet the demands of our ever-growing media landscape. The surge in speed and availability has left more room for error and created a vacuum for fake news stories to leak into.
It doesn’t help at all when the man who manufactured this phenomenon “Fake new” was the President of the United States himself.
First it started with the fake citizenship saga, when Donald Trump claimed back in 2011 the then President of the United States, Barack Obama was not an American citizen, despite unsubstantiated and insignificant evidence. The lie went on till 2014, until it was publicly quashed by Obama himself, putting birther conspiracy theories to rest.
But that didn’t mean the dissemination of false information against the former president had stopped. After president elect Donald Trump took up residency in the White House, he took to twitter to claim Barack Obama had wire-tapped his office, with again little proof but full confidence in peddling conspiracy.
One of the most active Presidents on twitter, his online communication has seen him in hot water more than once over his instant, unfiltered and rapid dissemination of information. Diplomats fear Trump’s online activity will have dangerous ramifications, claiming his online presence is insidious of sparking world war three. His recent beef with Kim Jong Un incited national debate and concern over the sphere of influence Trump has not only in the physical location of his office but more controversially online.
Is citizen journalism a new fusion of traditional media and freedom of speech? Or a force to be reckoned and regulated with?