Farinosi & Trere (2014) maintain that citizen journalism is primarily motivated by two factors; (1) to challenge the mainstream media coverage and (2) to document the real life situations of everyday lives.
The motivation to challenge the mainstream media coverage can be attributed to the public’s dissatisfaction with the conveyance of issues by the mainstream media. The mainstream media was supposed to be the watchdog but that was not the case due to the gatekeeping practices and excessive censorship imposed by the government. This explains the emergence of citizen journalism to expose the government misconduct and to break down the barriers of the government’s hidden agenda and fallacious idealism of the nation-state (Lai 2011).
In early 2011, a series of protests in Tunisia have spread to its neighbouring countries which includes Egypt and Libya. The series of protests in the Middle East was termed ‘Arab Spring’ which denotes the dismissal of oppressive, long-serving leaders. In Egypt, people protest in opposition to President Hosni Mubarak while Libyans protest in opposition to Colonel Gaddafi (Bruns et al., 2013).
Jones (2012) examined the causes and effects of Arab Spring, which was evoked by protests in Tunisia, and found that the ruling government in the Middle East are highly oppressive as they adopt an authoritarian approach in governing the countries whereby the people do not have the privilege to vote as in a democratic country. The oppressive leaders maintained their power by exploiting citizens. The high corruption rate and inequalities in the Middle East have resulted in a high percentage of educated but unemployed youths. Having to live under such circumstances, the youths realized that they will need to fight for their rights. Hence, they mobilize people and organize social movements through social media as it is the fastest and most cost-effective way to communicate the message and to reach out to the public.
In 2011, Egyptians called for a protest against the rule of President Mubarak who was in power for nearly three decades. The protest was primarily driven by the frustration with poverty and inequalities among Egyptians. The protest in Egypt was set off by the death of a young Egyptian businessman, Khaled Saeed. He was beaten to death outside a cybercafe in Sidi Gaber outside Alexandria in June 6, 2010 because he posted a video of police engaging in corruption. The late Khaled Saeed was practising citizen journalism as he used social media platforms to disseminate information that would otherwise not be revealed. Shortly after his death, Wael Ghonim, a Google executive for the Middle-East region, created a Facebook page titled “We are all Khaled Saeed”. The Facebook page was used to invite Egyptians to protest against the injustices and unfair ruling of President Mubarak. It eventually led to a Facebook revolution in Egypt (Ali & Fahmy 2013).
Ali & Fahmy (2013) argues that Facebook is not merely a communication tool instead a power that allows the dissemination of information to a global audience. This is evident in the sharing of user-generated content such as news updates and video footage documenting the series of protests in Egypt by the local Egyptians. The lack of reporting on the protests was authorized by the Egyptian government to conceal the turmoil in the country. However, the Internet has made it possible for the Egyptians to show the world the injustices taking place in the country, in hopes that the immense global pressure would help overthrow President Mubarak and his regime.
Shortly after the successful overthrow of President Mubarak, the Libyans was aroused to challenge the reign of President Gaddafi. A series of protests took place in Libya against Gaddafi’s military regime. The protests were driven by President Gaddafi’s authoritarianism ruling. As Libya is one of the top 20 nations with the highest level of media restrictions, the Libyans have to find a way to communicate information to the world. During the protests, President Gaddafi ordered that all communication in the country to be terminated. This resulted in the entire Libyan nation to be cut off from the world. Despite the communication blackout, the Libyans utilized social media sites, particularly Facebook and Twitter, to upload videos and photos of the protests taking place in Libya. The online contents were mostly captured on mobile phones and video cameras by the Libyans. If it was not for the content generated by the Libyans, the world would not have been made aware of the political turmoil in the country. As foreign journalists were denied access to Libya, the media organization around the world relied solely on the content generated by the citizen journalists in Libya. This is evident in the news reporting by mainstream news organization, BBC and CNN, that aired video footage obtained from social media sites. President Gaddafi was later killed in October 20, 2011 at the age of 69 (Ali and Fahmy 2013).
Bruns et al. (2013) maintains that social media have fueled the Arab Spring protests as studies have shown that the protests are led by tech-savvy youths who utilizes social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs. Such social media provides an avenue for the sharing of details of protests which is highly effective in generating support from like-minded individuals. Aday et al. (2013) maintains that social media is responsible for fueling the series of protests across the Middle East. New media such as social networking sites and blogs were utilized to disseminate information to the public and mobilize them to act. Social media also allows for participation in filtering and publicizing news. As media consumers are also taking on the role of media producers, this has reduced the impact of old media. This indicates that people are more inclined towards obtaining information from online sources as well as regard these online sources as credible and truthful as compared to the mass media such as television and newspapers which are likely to be regulated by the ruling political party.
In contrast to mass media, social media and the Internet have provided a platform for public opinion to be heard. The various discussions online across multiple social media platforms are termed ‘activism’ which gives the participants a sense of belonging to a group or community. Such active participation and sharing of protest-related content have inspired people outside the region to organize their own oppositional activities (Aday et al. 2013).
Aday, S, Farrell, H, Freelon, D, Lynch, M, Sides, J and Dewar, M 2013, ‘Watching From Afar: Media Consumption Patterns Around the Arab Spring’ American Behavioral Scientist, vol.57, no.7, pp.899-919, accessed 4/9/2013, SAGE Publications.
Ali, SR & Fahmy, S 2013, ‘Gatekeeping and citizen journalism: The use of social media during the recent uprisings in Iran, Egypt and Libya’, Media, War & Conflict, vol.6, no.1, pp55-69, accessed 6/4/2014, SAGE Publications.
Bruns, A, Highfield, T and Burgess, J 2013, ‘The Arab Spring and Social Media Audiences: English and Arabic Twitter Users and Their Networks’ American Behavioral Scientist, vol.57, no.7, pp.871-898, accessed 4/9/2013, SAGE Publications.
Farinosi, M & Trere, E 2014, ‘Challenging mainstream media, documenting real life and sharing with the community: An analysis of the motivations for producing citizen journalism in a post-disaster city’, Global Media and Communication, vol.10, no.1, pp73-92, accessed 6/4/2014, SAGE Publications.
Jones, P 2012, ‘The Arab Spring: Opportunities and Implications’, International Journal, vol.67, no.2, pp.447-463, accessed 1/9/2013, ProQuest database.
Lai, S 2011, Iconic images and citizen journalism: Proceedings of the 2011 iConference, New York, USA, 8 February 2011.