Having been raised in an upper middle class suburb near Washington D.C, everyone around me was a liberal -or at least acted like one during class. Even though only a handful of people at my high school were even eligible to vote, people preached valiantly about their beliefs and political preferences in long and confusing class discussions. And during those discussions being a republican was like the plague. No one wanted to be associated with the capitalistic, money hungry, ignorant, racist group that my AP NSL teacher made the Republican Party to be. In our GOP bashing that took the majority of class time on Fridays, one of our favorite go-to targets was the FOX news; the notoriously right winged news division that so many people criticize for its biased reporting, yet somehow manage to stay on the air all this time. Although there are leftwing news stations like MSNBC, since my teacher, classmates, and their parents were liberals, we didn’t really talk about that.
Why the long story about FOX and MSNBC?
If we have news channels that notoriously air specific news in a mold to fit a particular political agenda, how can that even be considered “news”?
For this reason I’ve stopped watching the news. I want to be informed about what goes on in the world but I don’t want the story to be filtered to fit the needs of a political party. Surely truth of the story will speak for itself.
As Coleman suggests in his piece, the new media has effectively gotten rid of these “gatekeepers”, both the right winged ones and the left winged ones. The free flow of information that is available for my pleasure at the click of my mouse is awe-inspiring and even to a certain extent overwhelming. But the question of credibility of citizen journalism lingers as we shift to the age of the new digital media.
Is the new media all that good?
The notorious incident of Reddit and its involvement in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 highlighted this exact concern. Citizen detectives of Reddit’s hive mind brought it upon themselves to try to catch the bomber, resulting in multiple wrong accusations and subsequent public shaming. These individuals weren’t supervised by traditional gatekeepers and their free expression was soon contaminated by the hive mind of the community. It changed the focus of the issue from helping people access accurate information about the chaotic events to one that simply tried to beat the old media and ultimately for the user’s 15 minutes of internet fame.
Just as Web-MD isn’t a suitable substitute for a doctor, citizen journalism can’t adequately replace traditional media outlets. The gatekeepers of old media help keep the credibility of their broadcast and since they are real people that cannot hide behind a computer screen, their stories are better thought-out and often a product of privileged information.
The freedom to express oneself on the internet without the fear of judgment isn’t as bullet proof as it sounded 10 to 15 years ago in the infancy of the public cyber space. The abundance personal outlets without fear of repercussions led to creation of internet “trolls” – people who go out of their way to ruin the discussion or purposely tamper with the system to bring unintended results. There are also numerous cases of cyber bullying that suggest that the internet space is not the utopian society once imagined and revealed the inconvenient truth that freedom of expression has a price. As Coleman states, the new media provides a “potentially more democratic media space” and the potential is undoubtedly there but the implementation is the difficult part.
The new media isn’t all that bad. As briefly explained in the outdated piece by Coleman, Twitter feeds, Facebook statuses, and blog entries have provided so many new outlets of everyday life. The social media programs like Instagram has given my morning coffee a new look with its endless filters, and one a more serious note, other social media outlets has provided insight to the revolution that happened in the Middle East to foreigners. During the Arab Springs the power of the new media and the inextinguishable human desire for expression triumphed over the dictatorship that was in place for many decades. Social media gave birth to a new kind of revolution and has served a vital role in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, and Egypt in just the time since the piece was published.
With all the technological advances, the world can be seen through any kind of filter you choose to put on. Would it be the “liberal sepia” filter that focuses on all the benefits of universal healthcare? Or the “conservative sunset” with emphasis on the jobs created by the Keystone Pipeline? You can read articles written by people that favor the political right while another article that covers the same story from the opposite end rests just four clicks away from your current page. The opportunity is there and the accessibility is also there. But the real question with the abundance of information in the new digital media age isn’t whether the information is widely available. The real question is “are you willing to search for them to better educate yourself?” In the end, the public good that can “potentially” come from better educated citizens is at the mercy of the willing.