James Lee from 2mhdmdj

Pros and cons of “Citizen Broadcasting”

Courtesy: 2mhdmdj

Last week’s dramatic, dangerous and bizarre situation at the Discovery Channel headquarters served as another reminder for the need to be ready to respond to senseless and unpredictable workplace violence.  

It was also a reminder that social networks are designed to scoop the media in the initial stages of an emerging crisis.  Some of the obvious reasons for this were captured in this story in The Washington Post.  Best callout:

Before camera crews and reporters could race to the scene, a shot of alleged hostage-taker James Lee was flashing around the world via Twitpic, Twitter’s photo-sharing service that lets people see whatever a cellphone camera captures seconds after the shutter snaps. The shot — full of menace and dread — was apparently taken by an office worker peering from a window several floors above the Discovery courtyard. The photo was apparently passed from an unidentified Discovery employee to another, who posted it on Twitpic.


Courtesy: Jeff Lake

Social networks “scooping” traditional news will continue and grow more common.  Some have tagged this as trend as “citizen journalism.”  I don’t like that tag.  “Journalism” typically provides context and has an embedded editorial process.  Instead, I prefer the term “citizen broadcasting” for these types of real-time alerts.

Depending on the type of crisis, “citizen broadcasting” can be a good or bad thing for the public. 

Some potential public benefits exist when social networks:

  • Alert the public to potential or emerging danger
  • Provide in-the-moment information that can help emergency responders, investigators or the justice system
  • Provide transparency that exposes bad practices

Some potential public detriments exist when social networks:

  • Spread rumors, misinformation or information that lacks appropriate context
  • Enflame public panic unnecessarily (I predict that the next “War of the Worlds” like rumor-panic will likely spread through social media…)
  • Are manipulated by special interests to distort facts through volume, since there is no editorial process to provide balance

What are your thoughts?  Are there any public benefits or detriments to “citizen broadcasting” that you’d like to share?   If so, share them in the comments section below.

Oct. 24 update:  This Social Media Examiner article by Casey Hibbard does a good job in capturing the different ways that social media was used by the Discovery Channel during the ordeal.  A good read.

2 thoughts on “Pros and cons of “Citizen Broadcasting””

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *