Educational sheet 13


Level : Intermediate

Educational goals

Objective 1: Understanding key concepts of ‘cyber-citizenship’ and ‘citizen media’

Objective 3: Giving examples of successful citizen media

Objective 3: Assessing the risks and drawbacks of citizen media

What is citizen media?

Definition: The term ‘citizen media’ contains the words ‘citizen’ and ‘media’. It does indeed refer to media – that is, radio, TV, the internet, and other tools that are used to convey information to a large audience. In addition, the modifier ‘citizen’ indicates that the people who write these articles and conduct these investigations are not professional journalists, but rather average citizens who want to lead discussions on specific issues or problems that affect society at large.


As a result, readers stop being purely passive and get involved in shaping and spreading information. Participation is therefore a very important part of citizen media, be it on the radio (online or otherwise), blogs, vlogs (blogs that primarily use video), podcasts, or other means. It allows average people, researchers, or NGO workers to have their voice heard by a large audience.


Example: Blogging as civic engagement in Albania: The blog Peizazhe të Fjalës (‘Landscapes of the Word’), created in 2007 by Ardian Vehbiu, presents itself as a separate, independent space: a sustainable model in the rapidly changing, financially drained, credibility-challenged, and largely politicised Albanian media landscape. In the words of its creator, ‘from the start, the blog has strived to be a “sanctuary” of Albanian free thinking that is protected from intimidation, shaming, humiliation, stigmatisation, trials, indictments, “silencing of the majority”, and other contemporary forms of censorship in public discourse’.



Involvement on social media

Social media have also transformed how information circulates; whereas the model used to be vertical, with news coming down from the top, its spread today has become more horizontal. Anyone can produce and spread content within their own network and even beyond it. Not only do you do have the chance to have your voice heard virtually, but also before or during real-life campaigns on the ground. During the Arab Spring, for example, social networks played an undeniable role, but the political changes came as a result of social movements, such as protests and blockades. Social networks allowed information and ideas to spread quickly, but societal-level change only came about when these actions met physical reality on the ground.


Example: Serbia’s #1of5million movement started in late 2018 and was able to benefit from new technology and modern means of communication to mobilise the public by sharing content online and exchanging information on social networks. The movement was in turn quick to attract a large audience on Facebook and Twitter, which allowed it to create discussion groups and mobilise masses of people against the political system’s creeping authoritarianism and for freedom of expression.



Risks and drawbacks

Remember that journalism is a profession that requires a special skill set and adherence to a code of ethics. At the same time, anyone can train to become a reporter, especially by talking to professional and amateur journalists. Sharing knowledge makes it possible for citizen media to become real, alternative, and reliable sources.


The ease with which anyone today can become an amateur journalist also brings some risks. Producers of information are sometimes unaware of fundamental ethical standards in journalism and publish incorrect or even completely manipulated information.


With citizen media, television channels, written press, and even social media, the amount and variety of information available today is larger than ever. This richness requires keeping a critical mind when faced with all of these sources of information.


Furthermore, while the internet is a place of freedom, it is also a place of economic exchange. The logic of marketing is invading both the internet and social media, turning information into another source of profit.


The spread of certain types of information, especially that which plays to readers’ emotions, is also a potential source of profit in a system that is funded by advertising. Clickbait is on the rise, enticing users to click on a link to visit a website and read an article. The author of the article and owner of the website then get paid by the advertisements on the website based on the number of views the article receives. This also constitutes a source of risk because it is possible to spread misinformation to attract viewers.