Social empowerment, media literacies and the relevance of Social Media

How spontaneous and public conversation among people who use the internet can be organized as citizen news agencies? Maybe you have a profile on a social media service. If not, for sure you have many friends who are already there talking about themselves, news, music, entertainment and cool things they think you might want to know about. And if not, they will share it anyway with others on various networks.

Social media changes many things in how we communicate, despite of being very important for popular storytelling, ethnography, anthropology, sociology, history and other sciences. The United Nations recognizes the relevance of the social media as tools that “had become essential for the United Nations on a wide range of issues to enable it to keep journalists quickly updated on developments and to build better-informed and more inclusive communities and coalitions for change”.

Last year I launched an online survey that probe the usage, trends and custom regarding social media networks in Spain, Brazil and Mexico. This study on social media networks was part of a PhD thesis presented at Autonomous University of Barcelona. The analyzed data indicate a potential for the establishment of global networks through which computer users interact. A prerequisite for the aforementioned networks are awareness of diversity, identities, sociocultural characteristics and equality in terms of access opportunities to new media among its users.

Public conversations

The objective was to check-out whether or not people accept unknown persons as new contacts on social media. The online survey was announced and commented on Twitter, Facebook and Orkut. Seems that the people were curious to know about the details of their acquaintances’ habits and uses of the social web, because many persons started inviting their contacts to do the survey too.

Thanks for this voluntary and spontaneous campaign there were 779 answers from 31 countries after two weeks. Then it’s possible to see the details with a margin of error of 6% to 8% of the uses, habits and behaviors of nationalized citizens of Spain, Brazil and Mexico. These partials draw a ‘global’ idea of how people use computer, internet, social media and mobiles. These persons are native or can understand Spanish.

The results clearly demonstrate how people are really interested in showing things to each other and want to know about what their friends are talking about or publishing on social network profiles.

The research didn’t consider any specific social media service separately. It measured the use of 16 different kinds of these social services. We are in the middle of a big problem to know who owns this immaterial and cultural heritage formed by the substantial content that people spontaneously publish in social media platforms. And the users keep on changing into different services.

People that interact and cooperate on online environments seem to feel comfortable about privacy on social networks: 67% of Brazilians, Mexicans and Spanish say that “have total control about what they publish and what the others can access of their personal data”. When asked about the contact lists on social media services: 46% say these contacts are “my public and are interested in what I comment or publish”, 59% regard as “family and friends” and 58% consider them as “a reliable source of information to know what happens”. The complete data of the survey are available in Spanish as an open eBook at:

Public and private

About privacy the study doesn’t consider any closed API social media service because they will have to find a way to gain more transparency. Everybody has something to say or to show in public. For example, in a school the pupils can make reports about a classmate who won a Karate competition or about the mother of a girl who prepares beautiful gifts to sell in her district. The kids can decide the editorial line and who can access this information, but there are possible ways to organize themselves as a media company. And if not, they can be oriented to try some new possibilities in the editorial industry. Now is time to empower ourselves as individuals, citizens, members of cultures or communities and, almost naturally, media agents.

Media Education

Media education contributes to meeting the condition to achieve citizen communication agencies, as the example of that organizes the teaching materials on media that are taught in 100% of Austria’s public schools. It is important that the training for media and new media is available to everyone. However, the organization of the computer users as citizen media agencies depends on the requirements of each community.

There are potential ways to structure all this information like modularized news agencies considering these social media as public and open ways of communication like we already do on streets or with the press. Then is to find the ways to crowdsource solutions to arrange it as citizen news agencies. But for that we need to have the basics: media and new media literacies.

Perhaps it may seem too early to happen now, but we already can collect data of what people talk about and the communities always can tell who are the ones that are representative or reliable. The social media services could help on this in a more clear way.

Open Maps

Another example, maybe one day you are navigating through an opensource map and want to know what’s going on in some districts of Rio de Janeiro. You can travel around and meet the opinion leaders of each district. What we had before was just some poor resources of media, if we think about five years ago it was very expensive to make live video transmissions, but now we can do it by mobile phones on web based platforms. Now it’s possible to make different and innovative things using what people are voluntarily talking about, reading, commenting, thinking or recirculating.

Considering that now everybody is a potential ‘reporter’ how can society start to partcipate as a big editorial team? Is it possible to set community editorial councils that can be structured by districts, towns, cities, states, countries and find the instructions for a collaborative citizen style guide, for example?

There are yet some citizen agencies working, but what I suggest as a thesis is the possibility to make modules that can be integrated to other modules and finally form a complete agency or agencies if needed. This way every school, district, small company, association, etc, can publish or find valid people and information.

To start with, it is important that each ‘news agent’ have the opportunity to learn how to deal with text, photo, imagery, audio and audiovisual. And then easily have access to the metrics generated by the flows of their audience, as long as they decide how or receive specialized orientation on how to monetize it too. There are plenty of examples of the use of media as social empowerment, such as Global Girl Media, Parceiros do Rio de Janeiro, and Video Nas Aldeias?.

Systems development

The development of citizen communication agencies requires specific software to emulate the planet and run all the community editorial specifications for the establishment of broadcasting services and instant playback, for example. The editorial features and software would be better defined in collective collaboration.

This study has found that the use of computer networks acts as a means to open new forms of social interaction and dissemination of information in multiple formats. Now that the means and resources are present, it’s time to probe the better ways for the citizenship to use them and to include the advances of data journalism on this journey.

Our human duty to spread the principals of freedom with rolling out admission to 75% of the global population without access to the worldwide computer networks. Furthermore data demonstrates that mobile phones seem to be the more accepted by the users and able to speed up this process.

How can we find solutions gathering children, teachers and parents on how to organize ourselves as media makers and how the market can be for the next years to come? Everybody can communicate live in local or global scales now, so we are already on this way.

César Viana is journalist and PhD on audiovisual communication and publicity at Autonomous University of Barcelona.

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