Until to occasion the exchange of media content among

Until
recently, traditional media outlets – newspapers, magazines, radio, and television
– were the sole producers of media messages, whereas the public were considered
consumers of the information gathered, analyzed and disseminated by media
outlets. However, the advent and growth of information and communication
technology (ICT) has revolutionized the media system.

Today,
we live in an age where everyone has become a journalist. The era where “media
organizations were considered as producers and the public as consumers of media
messages” has been replaced by the concept of “prosumers” (producers and consumers)
where everyone is a producer as well as a consumer of media messages.

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In
particular, this development is reflected with the emergence of social media.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of
Media and Communication, social media is, “a broad category or genre of communications media which occasion or
enable social interaction among groups of people, whether they are known to
each other or strangers localized in the same place or geographically
dispersed. It includes new media such as news groups, massively multiplier
online game (MMOGs), and social networking sites. Such media can be thought of
metaphorically as virtual meeting places which function to occasion the
exchange of media content among users who are both producers and consumers.
Social media have also become adopted as a significant marketing tool.”

Although
social media is a broad term which encompasses several networking sites,
Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and blogs are the most powerful social media sites,
with each utilized by a large number of users. Facebook statistics show that
the number of users has crossed one billion and some scholars claim that, if Facebook
was a country it would have been the third (and possibly even the second) most
populous country in the world after China and India.

The
number of social media users is growing daily; part of their popularity is
their ease of use. Individuals simply create social media accounts for free,
and the only things one has to posses to create or have a social media account are
a personal computer, Smartphone, Tab etc., an internet connection, and basic computer
literacy. Once individuals create their social media accounts they can share
and access information, publish updates, share photos, video clips and so on.
That’s why all media messages within social media are user-generated content.

Importantly,
these internet-related innovations have created a free flow of information
across borders. The exchange or dissemination of information on social media is
rapid, and information shared by a user instantly reaches any part of the globe
without any geographical barriers (unless the specific social networking site
is blocked by the government). Information shared on social media goes viral in
no time. Anyone can re-share any post published by a social media user to his
or her account, thereby, multiplying the reach of the message.

 

Beyond
individuals, social media is popular with government and non-government
organizations, educational institutions, and business firms. These entities utilize
social media to share messages, advertise products, and engage in public
outreach. For example, many governments are attempting to use these
technologies for service delivery and policy engagement; the United Nations 2012
E-government report revealed that 40 percent of 78 UN member countries had a
statement saying “Follow us on Facebook and Twitter” on their websites.

Additionally,
the mainstream media has also actively employed social media to reach a broader
audience. All the large television channels, radio stations, and print newspapers
have their own websites and active social media accounts, while journalists, as
well, can be reached on social media. In addition, media outlets invite
audiences to participate in their programs via twitter and Facebook.
Aljazeera’s ‘The Stream’ is a useful example of how the mainstream media utilize
social media within their day-to- day activities.

Yet,
as users have become both producers and consumers of media content, the question
of credibility becomes increasingly crucial. Since users can create accounts
with fake names and addresses, and messages and/or information are exchanged on
social media without prior review (some sexually explicit words are blocked in
some networking sites) to avoid some ethical and legal issues which may arise
between people; between an individual and an organization. However, credibility
is the main precondition for any media outlet to be successful and trusted by
the target audience.

Consequently,
social media has also been characterized as lacking credibility. Most often, information
shared on social media is highly opinionated and lacks impartiality. This puts
the integrity of media into question. In contrast, social media accounts created
by the mainstream media, official organizations, and prominent people like
presidents, prime ministers, ministers, CEOs, and celebrities tend to be
responsible because whenever something arises they can be easily located and brought
to justice.

Social
media has also been utilized to promote political, social, and religious ideas
and stands. For example, Terrorist groups like ISIS use social media to glorify
their atrocities as well as recruit potential members. On the other hand, some
people use social media to intimidate and defame people by creating accounts
with fake names and addresses. Even though the address of the user can be
located by the service provider or the owner of the social media site, it is
very difficult to catch such persons and bring them to justice.

Many
countries have tried to control and regulate social media by blocking the sites
using sophisticated software and/or drafting legislation which govern the use
of information and communication technology. In some countries, the fear of
lack of credibility and accountability has led to some social media sites being
completely restricted by the government. To remedy the blockage of such sites
some countries have created their own versions of social media.

Significantly,
social media has also become a voice to the voiceless, and provided an alternative
view and perspective to the highly westernized and monopolized media conglomerates.
Some responsible and concerned people from the Global South use social media to
present an alternative narrative and image of their countries, which are so often
stereotypically portrayed by the mainstream media as places of drought, famine,
and war. 

In
the case of the traditional media outlets, they are authorized and regulated by
the law of the land and they are accountable to everything they publish or
broadcast. They have some ethical and legal standards that they have to follow.
This is what differentiates the traditional media from the social media. As
long as social media sites are not accountable to what is being published by
their users they remain questionable when it comes to the issue of credibility.