Tag Archives: #socialmedia

Twitter: A Centre for Citizen Journalism

Social media has greatly evolved the way one receives their news and allows them to take a larger role in it than ever. While the public traditionally received news by reading about it in the newspaper, hearing it on the radio, or seeing it on TV, nowadays social media is the most immediate way to receive news as it is right at one’s fingertips. The platform Twitter allows users to view trending news both locally and worldwide, along with various discourse about it on one’s timeline or hashtags. Twitter allows users to engage in citizen journalism, making it a democratic space that helps users better understand the news. 

This evolution of receiving news on Twitter’s platform results in a more rounded understanding of the stories being shared. One is no longer only relying on the author of an article, but is exposed to a multitude of opinions. Users are able to read a tweet from someone directly involved in the situation and are made aware of the main objections or arguments surrounding the issue too. Tweets have a “quote” feature meaning users can essentially add on to an original tweet, giving their own thoughts or comments. These tweets can then be retweeted or liked, sometimes gaining more popularity than the original message. Along with replies, this is often where dissemination takes place. 

When someone – a bystander or person involved in an event – posts some kind of media, often a smartphone photo or video, this is called citizen journalism (Barnes 23). Citizen journalism is defined aspeople without professional or formal training in journalism [having] an opportunity to use the tools of modern technology and the almost limitless reach of the Internet in order to create content that would otherwise not be revealed…” (16). Citizen journalism is an important part of social media being a democratic space. It allows a variety of voices to be heard instead of only professional journalists or government officials. Barnes writes, “Citizen journalism has put back democracy into the hands of individuals, as anyone with a mobile phone or a camera can be a citizen journalist” (23).

The downside of citizen journalism is there is a higher potential for false stories to be spread, as it does not require fact-checking. Still, citizen journalism has proven to be complementary to traditional journalism, and at times, in the case of natural disasters or other instances, it is the only source of information. During the 2009 political upheavals in Iran, some writers referred to it as the “Twitter revolution,” since “traditional media entities like CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBS and other networks [were blocked and] had to rely on information from the social media such as Twitter for their information” (Barnes 22). This is a positive instance where citizen journalism, unlike traditional, is also able to provide instantaneous news and the media is often used by traditional journalists to piece together events later on. It also works well to capture people’s shorter attention spans on social media. Oftentimes important news at the moment is “trending” on Twitter or will be all over one’s timeline. Contrary to traditional news, citizen journalism reveals aspects that may not be on news channels or mainstream media and through users sharing it, it is now given a platform. 

In the case of the Black Lives Matter movement, posts on Twitter and citizen journalism helped to spark the recent protests after the death of George Floyd. According to Pew Research, “There were roughly 218,000 tweets containing the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag the day after his death, when the first bystander video was posted online” (Anderson). This video, an act of citizen journalism that circulated on social media, reveals the police brutality that led to Floyd’s death. It resulted in the 4 officers being fired and later after protests, they were also charged (“Officer in George Floyd Death Faces 2nd-Degree Murder Charge, Others Also Charged”) The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was created on Twitter, “in 2013 by Patrice Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi—California and New York-based organizers active in incarceration, immigration, and domestic labour campaigns—after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder in Florida of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin” (Rickford 35). Citizen journalism has also been used to reveal the violent actions of police at protests as well as displaying the peaceful protests occurring around the world. In contrast, “On balance, Americans say too much news coverage has focused on acts of violence during protests, too little on nonviolent protests” (Mitchell). While mainstream news coverage reveals often the violent side of the story, citizen journalism is able to also show the nonviolent side which is not reported on as often.

By being exposed to these democratic spaces and posts on social media like Twitter, viewers are able to change their opinions especially when it comes to political or social issues. According to a July Pew Research Center survey, “roughly a quarter (23%) of adult social media users in the United States – and 17% of adults overall – say they have changed their views about a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media in the past year” (Perrin). Twitter as a democratic space has allowed viewers to become further educated and engage in citizen journalism. 

This has also resulted in a change for traditional media, as “Citizen media [gives] ideas to traditional media and traditional media [is] also able to develop those ideas to inform and to educate, which are two of the main objectives of traditional journalism” (Barnes 23). While there are downsides like credibility, one must have this in mind to critically examine the information they come across and what they choose to share. This space has overall widened the lens of news as “In order to get the complete story, it helps to have both points of view” (Barnes 17). Traditional journalism has been enriched by using elements of citizen journalism in its storytelling. Along with both traditional and citizen journalism on Twitter, users are able to form their own opinions by retweeting or liking content that they support. 

Twitter has changed the way the public receives their news for the better by offering different viewpoints for a fuller understanding, and by ultimately allowing them to be their own publishers. By being a democratic space, users on Twitter have the opportunity to educate themselves and others on current events to their fullest extent.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Monica et al. “#BlackLivesMatter surges on Twitter after George Floyd’s death.” Pew Research Center, Fact Tank, 10 June 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/10/blacklivesmatter-surges-on-twitter-after-george-floyds-death/ Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.

Barnes, Corinne. “Citizen Journalism vs. Traditional Journalism: A Case for Collaboration.” Caribbean Quarterly, vol. 58, no. 2/3, 2012, pp. 16–27. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41708775. Accessed 17 Oct. 2020.

Hauser, Christine, et al. “’I Can’t Breathe’: 4 Minneapolis Officers Fired After Black Man Dies in Custody.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 June 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/26/us/minneapolis-police-man-died.html. Accessed 16 Oct. 2020. (Bystander video link qtd. in Anderson) 

Mitchell, Amy et al. “Majorities of Americans Say News Coverage of George Floyd Protests Has Been Good, Trump’s Public Message Wrong” Pew Research Center, 12 June 2020, https://www.journalism.org/2020/06/12/majorities-of-americans-say-news-coverage-of-george-floyd-protests-has-been-good-trumps-public-message-wrong/. Accessed 16 Oct. 2020

“Officer in George Floyd Death Faces 2nd-Degree Murder Charge, Others Also Charged” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 4 June 2020, www.cbc.ca/news/world/floyd-officers-charges-1.5596812. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020. 

Perrin, Andrew. “23% of users in U.S. say social media led them to change views on an issue; some cite Black Lives Matter.” Pew Research Center, Fact Tank, 15 Oct 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/15/23-of-users-in-us-say-social-media-led-them-to-change-views-on-issue-some-cite-black-lives-matter/. Accessed 16 Oct. 2020. 

Rickford, Russell. “Black Lives Matter: Toward a Modern Practice of Mass Struggle.” New Labor Forum, vol. 25, no. 1, 2016, pp. 34–42. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26419959. Accessed 17 Oct. 2020.

Essay #1

Sonya Johal

Professor Norman

PUB 101

20 October 2020

Democratic Discussions and News on Instagram

            The process of checking news has changed as societies have progressed over time. Years ago, people were dependent on newspapers, and would look forward to reading the paper in the mornings. That slowly changed to becoming dependent on news channels and listening to updates on television. Over the last few years, news has evolved further, and people now use social media as a news source, as well. One of the main social network platforms that is used as a news source is Instagram. Instagram has many ways of spreading news, through live streams, their stories feature, and posts. It allows for discussions among people, in a democratic way, and also opens conversations about recent news. Instagram has become a central news source for many people, and functions as a useful, democratic space to receive news and converse about it with others around the world.

            Instagram allows for everyone, with an account, to have equal rights to view any public content. Users also have the ability to create content as they wish, allowing for them to share news with others, share links to news stories, and share what they think about any topic. As a part of this democracy, people are able to respond to posts, stories, or other information that someone shares. This results in opening many conversations about news and the world’s current events. One main reason people are attracted to Instagram as a news source is the convenience, and the ability to post something quickly or in real time (Vazquez-Herrero et al. 2). The visual aspect attracts viewers as well, along with short captions or videos (“Instagram ‘will overtake Twitter’”). This adds to the viewer experience of reading news stories due to being able to read a news story quickly and then continue on doing something else. People have taken these features on Instagram and used them to spread important information about necessary topics. One example of this is how people have used this platform to carry forward social justice movements. This includes Black Lives Matter, as users share information about shootings, protests, and share links for where to donate. Instagram not only allows for people to share and spread information, but also to share their own stories. When someone experiences something personally, they are able to share their story immediately with the world through an Instagram post, story, or live video.

            This social media platform operates with millions of users around the world. Instagram allows for people around the world to connect and speak to each other about important topics. This removes the limitation of people not being able to reach wide demographics. While this is a very beneficial feature, Instagram often filters what is seen on people’s home feeds. This means that, due to the algorithm, Instagram shows people posts that are similar to other posts they like or often view. This leads to echo chambers, which are spaces where people view stories that confirm what they believe or agree with (Bishop). While this appears to be a barrier in receiving different types of news, there are several alternative ways for people to find news on Instagram. A few different ways people discover news are through people they follow who share stories, by searching hashtags, and by following influential accounts which share important information. These influential accounts may include news channel accounts, celebrities, critics, or journalists.

            While Instagram has many benefits and positive aspects as a news source, there are also issues concerning it. For many people, accuracy is a concern due to viewing news stories that are not accurate or objective (Shearer and Matsa). While it is beneficial for people to have quick access in order to share news stories, there may be important information that is not included or information that someone heard wrong. People appreciate being able to read news on this social platform, but often times it is important to check if the source is trusted and confirm what is heard. Instagram users have quick access to any information they wish to find, and they have the option to respond to it, in any way they wish. Although this is true, there have been cases when a user is censored for an opinion they hold or words they use. In this case, Instagram limits what someone can say about something, and users must respond using different words or in an alternative way.

            Although there are several concerns and issues surrounding Instagram’s quality as a news source and democratic space, Instagram functions as a convenient community space for many people. It operates as an area where people can discuss events and situations that are important to them. People often have different opinions than one another, but that is part of having important conversations with multiple perspectives, as opposed to having one single perspective on a situation. Instagram continues to evolve and create more opportunities for people to use it as a space where they can interact with stories about current events. As it continues to build and become greater, people continue to turn to it in order as a source, to receive real time information.

Works Cited

Bishop, Katie. “Why Are Millennials and Gen Z Turning to Instagram as a News Source?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 27 July 2020, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/jul/27/instagram-news-source-social-media.

Shearer, Elisa, and Katerina Eva Matsa. “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, 27 Aug. 2020, www.journalism.org/2018/09/10/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2018/.

Vázquez-Herrero, Jorge, et al. “Ephemeral Journalism: News Distribution Through Instagram Stories.” Social Media + Society, vol. 5, no. 4, 2019, doi:10.1177/2056305119888657.

“Instagram ‘Will Overtake Twitter as a News Source’.” BBC News, BBC, 15 June 2020, www.bbc.com/news/technology-53050959.

The Deteriorating Democracy of Social Media

For some time, social media was used for interacting with those who would not normally be available to us, which allowed for the spread of knowledge and more transparency in the political world. For a while, this removed the power structures from online interactions and allowed everyone to have an equally important voice (Suler, 2004). Though social media platforms claim that they remain democratic, there is substantial evidence that these platforms can be used and manipulated in a way that does not promote democracy, but rather uses the accessibility of the online world to promote authoritarian ideologies. Instagram in particular has become a good place for users to speak their minds, especially given that the amount of Instagram users has nearly doubled in recent years, from 428 million in 2016 to 800 million in 2019 (Sevastopulo, 2019). While this seems to be the case in many social media platforms, Instagram’s rising popularity gives way to the spreading falsified information that contributes to the reduction of democracy in social media.

Like other social media platforms, Instagram was designed with features that are meant to make it a democratic platform. For one, most content can be accessed without “following” a particular person or organization, meaning that users may access information on a topic without subscribing to the information provider. Users are permitted to comment on posts, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with the original message. Furthermore, Instagram allows for more information to be provided in a single post than other social media platforms: the character count is significantly longer than that of Twitter, and more information can be conveyed with visual aspects in a post. The result is that users can clearly communicate their thoughts through multiple channels within Instagram, offering a substantial amount of freedom with what users produce.

Despite the above-mentioned qualities, there are Instagram characteristics that have consequences for the democracy that social media claims to provide. Instagram enables selective exposure, meaning that users can easily access information that confirms their own beliefs without necessarily coming across content that challenges those beliefs (Roman, 2020, p. 1). For instance, users are more inclined to follow political candidates with whom they share common values than political candidates with whom they disagree on key issues (Roman, 2020, p. 8). On Instagram, content is recommended to users based on posts they have “liked”, contributing to a continuous stream of repetitive content. To avoid any challenge to their beliefs, some users may even utilize selective avoidance, a technique for avoiding opinions that challenge one’s own beliefs (Roman, 2020, p. 1). So, Instagram algorithms enable issues of selective exposure and selective avoidance, which is undemocratic in that users are overexposed to certain content and underexposed to other content.

Groups such as political parties and organizations may use social media for symbolic and presentational reasons (Nic DePaula, 2018, p. 99). The definition of “information” within the context of social media is unclear, leaving room for these purely symbolic presentations of information that may be better described as propaganda than truth. Furthermore, the fact that that anyone can make claims about anything, regardless of the legitimacy of these claims, contributes to the spreading of “fake news”. Instagram does not have a fact-checking team (Sevastopulo, 2019), meaning that there is no monitoring of false information on behalf of the platform. Plus, people who are contributing to false news on Instagram can be more difficult to track due to a lack of personal information required on a profile. This gave way to a surge of fake accounts that can be cheaply purchased to boost engagement on Instagram. These false accounts are used to spread even more misinformation about the number of supporters a person has, in addition to any more false news being produced by the fake accounts (Sevastopulo, 2019).

A key issue with social media is that it is much easier to spread misinformation than it is to correct it, which results in widespread confusion and disputes over the truth (Beauchamp, 2019). Once the information is public, there is no going back, and a lie is more likely to become widespread than a follow-up critique. This idea is especially prominent when examining the social media surrounding current U.S. politics because the far-right utilizes the spread of misinformation to their advantage. While mainstream media has caught Donald Trump in lies countless times, his supporters spread his lies and even fabricate false evidence to cement the idea in others that Trump’s word is truth. Social media platforms in and of themselves naturally aid the far-right. The far-right aim to undermine trust in established institutions, which then helps the far right gain public favour while mainstream groups (Beauchamp, 2019). When there is so much misinformation spread, the confusion leads people not to trust democratic institutions, which then displaces that trust in a way that benefits authoritarian groups (though they are the ones most responsible for the false news in the first place.) The spreading of false news therefore disproportionately benefits more conservative groups, which further reduces the vision of democracy on social media.

In sum, Instagram and other social media platforms are becoming less democratic as time goes on. Despite the original intents and purposes of social media, the platforms themselves enable ignorance, anonymous deviance, and the falsification of information. This has had an enormous influence of politics, particularly in the U.S., and will continue to have this negative effect on democracy as long as platform creators continue to allow undemocratic behaviour to take place.


Beauchamp, Z. (2019, January 22). Social media is rotting democracy from within: How social platforms enable far-right politicians’ campaigns to undermine democracy. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/1/22/18177076/social-media-facebook-far-right-authoritarian-populism

Nic DePaula, E. D. (2018). Toward a typology of government social media communication: Democraticgoals, symbolic acts and self-presentation. Government Information Quarterly, 35, 98-108. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.giq.2017.10.003

Roman, J. H. (2020, September). Insta-echoes: Selective exposure and selective avoidance on Instagram. Telematics and Informatics, 52, 1-10. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tele.2020.101432

Sevastopulo, H. M. (2019, February 21). Why US politicians are turning to Instagram ahead of 2020 election. Financial Times. Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/737d2428-2fdf-11e9-ba00-0251022932c8

Suler, J. (2004). The Online Disinhibition Effect. Cyberpsychology & behaviour, 7(3), 321-326. Retrieved from http://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html

Essay 1: Social Media is Capitalistic, Not Democratic

On February 2014, Facebook introduced an update called the real name policy (Bivens, 2017). This introduction increased gender identifications from 2 to 58 (Bivens, 2017). As an attempt of inclusivity, Facebook is perceived to be giving a democratic response to a growing concern of minorities in online spaces. More users can now choose who they identify themselves as without compromising their self-identity. However, after the policy has been implemented, many queer and LGBTQ members reported that they can no longer access their profile because their names do not fit with their supposed identity (Bivens, 2017). Facebook may be giving power to its queer users, but I argue that’s not the case. I argue that social media is capitalistic, not democratic. LGBTQ users’ names and genders are to fit in the heteronormative standard in order for marketers and the state to keep track of its citizens through surveillance and protection (MacAulay & Moldes, 2016). Non-binary users are always recoded back to the binary system, exposing the inauthentic gesture of Facebook as inclusive and democratic (Bivens, 2017). LGBTQ users’ fluid and changing experiences cannot be truly represented online. Thus, hindering their entrepreneurial pursuits and community building (Lingel & Golub, 2015).

On Facebook’s Help Center, there is a section that acknowledges names on Facebook (Facebook, 2018). Aside from the things to keep in mind, the standards specify that the name should appear on and ID or part of their ID document list (Facebook, 2018). This means that an expected first and last name must be created for the user. This may not necessarily reflect on queer identities and that already causes conflicts. 

The PEW Research conducted a survey on 1197 self-identified LGBT adults 18 years or older asking about their online use (PEW, 2013). Eighty percent of respondents use sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but the survey shows prohibiting behaviours online (PEW, 2013). Fifty six percent of surveyors said that they have not revealed their sexual identities online, and 83% do not regularly discuss LGBT issues online (PEW, 2013). LGBT groups experience different treatment in these online spaces, but still continue to use it. With Facebook’s real name policy, there was an attempt to be inclusive. Facebook is now in support of these minorities, and empowering them through their profiles. But as seen in MacAulay & Moldes, Bivens, and Lingel & Golub’s works, Facebook is driven by capitalistic notions, disguising their authentic gestures to mask its market driven responses.

MacAulay & Moldes acknowledges that Facebook uses the real name policy to justify legal precedents and cite harmful actions towards others such as harassment, impersonation and trolling (2016). While these seem legitimate concerns, they find that they’re less interested in protecting them rather than making the users ‘transparent to the market and the state’ (MacAulay & Moldes, 2016). A key concept they identify stemming from queer theory is normativity (or heteronormativity). This is described as a regulatory system that naturalizes sex and gender (MacAulay & Moldes, 2016). This process of normativity means that agents and groups take the effort to impose and force individuals to fit into existing systems to keep order or regulate easier. Heteronormativity then entails that binary systems (male and female) are the correct and only way to follow due to economic and legal precedents. This means that anyone who deviates from it are not ‘performing correctly’ (MacAulay & Moldes, 2016). Data collection is another issue that they bring up because this forces users who actively avoid as part of Facebook’s marketer aggregation. They have to choose between binary choices that will not fit them, and that can result in their accounts being banned or ultimately not use the service anymore. A democratic practice in social media will allow any individual to self-express and create within their own public spaces, but the notion of heteronormativity does not give that space to queer users. It simply favours what funds the company running the service. They also cite the increase of market shares that occurred in 2014 after the real name policy was introduced. Market shares in 2011 decreased to 19.82 USD after reports of fake users on Facebook surfaced and after the real name policy was implemented, the shares rose to 78.02 USD in December 2014 (MacAulay & Moldes, 2016). The theory of normativity serves as a great interest to what can be marketed and how that affects minorities who want to use Facebook. And these experiences continue to exist.

Bivens examined Facebook’s gender coding system and found that when coding the genders, females were assigned 1, males were assigned 2, and the ‘undefined’ were assigned 0 (2017). This undefined category has been the standard for coding non-binary genders and how that allows Facebook to include so many gender options. On one hand, the number 0 allows for the existence of non-binaries, but does not exactly fit into the binary code (Bivens, 2017). Bivens found that later updates to the code see that newly assigned genders and their code will default to the undefined because the codes were not established since creating it (2017). The 56 additional genders are now, in the back end, defaulted to 0 even if it is given a defined gender (Bivens, 2017). This allowed Facebook to easily aggregate data that can be sent to marketers who are only interested in the binary genders (Bivens, 2017). The nuances and multiple gender identities have been devolved to 0 and continuously will not receive the technological support on Facebook. These regulations are masked as authenticity, and it does not seem democratic. Rather, it forces its users into shaping to what is acceptable online and what numbers can be easily assigned to them so that it can be quickly shared and sold online. 

It does not support the lives and work of other members of the community too. Drag users are greatly affected by restricting user information flexibility to fit with their fluid and changing personalities to continuously be entertaining drag queens (Lingel & Golub, 2015). Online identity work has become an extension of their own work, and that continuity allows them to stay connected with their fans and fellow queens. It supports them in a capitalistic sense that allows them to advertise their shows and market their identities, but it does not allow multiple identities (Lingel & Golub, 2015). This, again, falls into the notion of normativity where they are forced into one trackable identity. Facebook acknowledges an inclusivity of users, but does not acknowledge multiple and fluid online identities (Lingel & Golub, 2015). Instead, it advocates a unifying and unitary profile (Lingel & Golub, 2015). While drags do not represent the majority of the LGBTQ community, these collective experiences contribute to a shared, limited, and constrained online experience that does not allow the desired expectation to freely express themselves. Rather, they have to fit the normative mold to appease Facebook’s marketers and regulators. The real name policy is just another example in online social spaces that operates to generate revenue. Facebook acts for money, not for its users.


Bivens, R. (2017). The gender binary will not be deprogrammed: Ten years of coding gender on Facebook. New Media & Society, 19(6), 880–898. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1177/1461444815621527.

Facebook (2018). What names are allowed on Facebook? Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/help/112146705538576?helpref=faq_content.

Lingel, J., & Golub, A. (2015). In Face on Facebook: Brooklyn’s Drag Community and Sociotechnical Practices of Online Communication: IN FACE ON FACEBOOK. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 20(5), 536-553.

MacAulay, M., & Moldes, M. (2016). Queen don’t compute: Reading and casting shade on Facebook’s real names policy. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 33(1), 6-22.

PEW Research Center (2013, June 13). A survey of LGBT Americans: LGBT adults online. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/a-survey-of-lgbt-americans/.