BY FOCUS MAGANGA
While the social media, precisely the online user-generated content, provides enormous opportunities for mainstream journalists to use in their journalistic roles, the same exploitation poses a solid threat to deprofessionalise news and vehicle fabricated collocation into the theatre of public domain, which eventually gets embraced as an unaltered truth.
I must state at the onset my research interest area borders on the social media, and as a media and communication professional, I view the social media as being an agora providing a canopy of opportunities for journalists to use in their gatekeeping role.
Comninos (2011) defines user-generated content (UGC) as internet content (text, images, videos and sound clips) that is created and uploaded to the internet by users usually for no explicit financial gain, but rather for enjoyment or passion. Clever (2009) added that UGC is usually created by amateurs, rather than professionals.
So basically the pictures, videos, texts we upload on facebook or whatsapp are UGC.
STUDIES SHOW JOURNALISTS HAVE BEEN CAREFULL WHEN USING UGC
Several scholars have studies the exploitation of UGC in traditional media to analyse how journalists use internet content generated by non-professionals.
The studies have been consistent in pointing out that professional journalists use cautiously UGC in fear of deprofessionalising news content.
Online UGC is widely feared to be embracing and carrying fake news and fabrications.
About a decade ago, I carried out a research to analyse how the local media use UGC in their traditional news production. The study’s findings were consistent with previous researchers in pinning its compass to the fact that journalists are reluctant and cautious when using the social media.
SOCIAL MEDIA OVERPOWERED TRADITIONAL MEDIA IN 2019 ELECTIONS
The conduct of the media in this year’s tripartite elections clearly points out the local traditional media have now become too excited with the social media.
Right from the questions most journalists asked MEC Chairperson, Dr. Jane Ansah, at national tally center you could tell journalists in the traditional media have fully fallen in love and enjoying a close intimate affair with social media reports.
While most journalists had reporters deployed across the country to report and update the nation with unofficial figures, most of these journalists somehow downed their professional tools and enjoyed themselves with juxtaposition and magical fascinating powers of the social media.
The journalists at national tally mostly diverted their attention from official reports coming from their colleagues who were on the ground, and instead devoted their energy o consuming and using more appealing wine, that is in social media reports.
Literary, journalists were visibly more fascinated with social media reports more than official news lying in the pulpit of official platform. They were mostly asking questions some ‘insensitive boy’ was posting on the social media.
This is not to say the social media does not carry authentic news. Authentic news can also be generated and thrown into the aorta of the social media, but mostly studies in indicate such news is usually exaggerated, twisted and doctored. It is not sent by professionals after all.
That is why, for me, the major highlight of the just gone elections was this pervading and uncontrollable power the social media revealed. Unlike in previous studies done in the area, the last elections have been unequivocal and clear in exposing insensitive exploitation of UGC into journalistic roles.
Instead of investigating rumours and allegations peddled in the social media, the traditional media mostly shelter and authentication for uninvestigated reports.
One of such issues include the MK2 billion Jane Ansah allegedly received. The traditional media, in my view, have fallen prey to this social media allegation. And instead of investigating it, the media embraced and helped it spread. And you must understand journalism exists on the nucleus of objectivity, truth, accuracy and fairness. It matters and it is a big deal in journalism to circulate a lie.
Unless the media investigate and authenticate it, it remains a social media report. Unauthentic and unfounded allegation.
THREATS FROM FULLY OPENING UP TO SOCIAL MEDIA REPORTS
Studies on exploitation of user-generated content extend its scope to answering the journalistic fear that the ever-growing rise in consumption of social media will boot out the media, specifically the newspapers. Such fears are, however, ruled out in the establishment that people still need the traditional media because the social media, even though it is immediate and relatively cheap, is not credible enough. The conclusion has, therefore, been that the social media and traditional media are complementary.
However, the upsurge of social media reports in traditional media threaten relevancy of the traditional media’s very own existence.
More so, as the traditional media incautiously open up and fuel social media reports, it will be difficult for the current post-election violence to subsidize. As the traditional media consents and cements social media report, that is mostly fake, it is highly likely that if the electoral case currently at constitutional court will not favour the opposition political parties, there will be even more riots, looting and violence.
In conclusion, the traditional media have the power to come back to the professional stance of exploiting carefully and cautiously social media reports. Should the media relinquish its role, there can always be a chance that unprecedented boomerang effect of their news content may throw the nation into a theatre of disarray, anarchy and terror.