x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The changing face of breaking news

Social media sites are influencing news coverage by the mainstream media.

For centuries, media outlets have defined and judged themselves by their ability to spread news faster than their competition. As social media empowers more people to report the news, traditional media outlets are struggling to redefine their role, and their worth. However, the end for old-school newsgatherers is not nigh, said Abeer Najjar, an assistant professor with the American University of Sharjah, who has studied social media during the recent Iranian protests and the conflict in Gaza.

Even as Twitter and social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace take away traditional media's ability to break news, Twitter users still rely on newspaper websites to provide coherent and accurate information. After the "Twitterati" submitted original reports about the Sharjah plane crash, "all of the news stories were published again by Twitter", Ms Najjar said. For the newspapers, there is "more opportunity to provide analysis and context," she said, adding that it is still a desperately needed role.

As a medium for providing a clear and accurate view of what is happening in any given country, the value of social media is uncertain. text messages in Ukraine, and Twitter in Moldova, have mobilised thousands of protesters. And Twitter shot to prominence earlier this year during the Iranian protests. As foreign journalists in Iran were jailed, deported or confined, updates about deaths, arrests and protests came from the Iranian people themselves, or via their proxies in the US.

Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot on the street during the protests, became a symbol for protesters after a video of her death on the street was uploaded online. On Twitter, users updated their tweets with the code "#neda" to mark them as signs of solidarity, sympathy or Iranian news. Because of the diffuse nature of these updates, governments find them difficult to control. However, that abundance brings a new set of problems: it is almost impossible to sort the credible from the incredible. Ms Najjar suggests the media develop into a complementary entity that verifies and analyses, rather than breaks news. But so too do the social media revolutionaries have their work cut out for them. "Everybody wants to beat the news and everybody wants to be first," she said. That competition cannot overcome the need to "not give out bad information".

Twitter A micro-blogging website that allows users to post updates that are shorter than 140 characters. Called "tweets", these updates can provide information about one's current status, encourage chatting or spread news, information and links to websites. Social media Also referred to as Web 2.0, it describes one of hundreds of websites in which the majority of content is provided by users and distributed among peers. Some of the largest social media websites in use are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, Orkut and LinkedIn. Hashtags A code used on Twitter to organise tweets. Words are preceded by a # symbol, which tells the Twitter software to hyperlink the word and connect it with all other tweets using that code. For example, # Iran Election was widely used in tweets about the Iranian protests. Hashtags can also organise twitter games; #whenwewereyoung is used in tweets in which users offer details about their childhoods. Hashtags can also be used to create trend topics. When enough people use a single word or hashtag, that word appears on Twitter's front page, alerting other users to the trend. @Email:jgerson@thenational.ae