19th November 2012
The advances in mobile technology and the easy access to audiences via social media has seen the rise and rise of Citizen Journalist.
Today, everybody can capture images, record, edit and then post their thoughts to a worldwide audience. Via a plethora of online sites, an ordinary member of the public can reach millions of viewers and listeners at the touch of a button.
The 2007 London bombings were an early example of Citizen Journalist. As police and the emergency services battled to establish the full picture of the attacks, it was passers-by and walking wounded who filmed the atrocities and fed them via YouTube and other social media sites to newsrooms of the BBC, ITN and Sky News.
The drive for democracy in some Middle Eastern countries gained massive public support and awareness in Europe andAmericathanks to exposure on social media sites and the ability of local people to film bombardments on their mobile phones and send them to TV stations.
But for every exceptional and courageous example of Citizen Journalist in action, there are numerous examples of poor judgement, abuse of power and knee-jerk reaction based on very limited knowledge or complete ignorance.
Nowhere is this exemplified more than over the now infamous BBC Newsnight story that led to a prominent former politician being wrongly identified online.
Hundreds of Citizen Journalists clamoured to be among the first to reveal the identity of the unnamed man. They did not check their facts, did not seek validation from other sources, they just went into a Tweet frenzy, determined not be left behind by their Twitter rivals.
This episode, more than anything in recent years, is set to change the landscape of social media and how we share our views and hunches with our followers. With luck, it will teach the reckless to think before they share their views with the rest of us.
But there exists a danger that it could stifle legitimate debate and comment. We must be our own censors, and temper our words to ensure we don't just follow the crowd. Let us show our critics that we can police ourselves without the need for legislation.