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Ruben Canlas Jr

New media makes news more personal

October 28, 2009 2:48pm
In the previous installment, we discussed how the new media – our collective term for internet, web and mobile technology – transformed many ordinary citizens into volunteer news correspondents.

Today, we take off from Marshall McLuhan's revelation that "the medium is the message."

Tell me if you agree: Doesn't disaster information as reported by the mass media always sound remote and distant from us? Critics called this the "fourth wall" that separated the people inside the TV box from us, the audience.

In contrast, by affinity, mobile phones, blogs, and social networking sites feel more personal for us. They are more accessible to us: even now, we can connect to Facebook via mobile phones.

And new media can connect us with our network of friends more intimately than with mass media.

Which sounds more urgent to you?

A heavily made up, pretty newscaster reading typhoon updates in a straight-faced manner from a teleprompter? Or a friend who is reposting a Twitter update from their friend?

Which brings us to point four: we trust information more willingly when passed through social networking connections.

However, the strength of new media is also its weakness.

Since we trust our friends more, we also have a proclivity to forward false and even harmful information that come from them.

Remember the false information about Tommy Hilfiger's disparaging remarks against Pinoys? Our Point Five: in the copy-paste, post-repost world of new media, circulating factoids is easy.

This brings us to Point Six, which I will begin to explain with a story.

At the height of any crisis such as Ondoy, people become antsy in the absence of information. We begin to make up stories and latch on to any piece of gossip to relieve our thirst for information.

During Ondoy, two stories were circulated on Facebook.

The first contained a photograph of Rep. Mikey Arroyo allegedly buying liquor during the typhoon, and the other was a story about how Sen. Dick Gordon's political maneuvering disrupted relief distribution in one barangay.

Given that we were frustrated at the slow government response in those days, Pinoys latched on to the gossip and reposted them on Facebook. (I am afraid to say, I was one of those who reposted the Gordon factoid. After all, it came from my trusted network of friends.)

There is nothing new to the chain of events I have just described.

But the new thing is the subject of Point Six: shortly after the erroneous stories came out, the citizen reporters conducted self-correction.

My friend who posted the information apologized on Facebook and said the story about Gordon was false.

I also swallowed my pride and retracted. Browsing through my network, I saw that the others had also done the same.

This was something relatively new in our landscape.

What adds to the novelty is that most of us Pinoys are not used to apologizing or retracting explicitly (instead, we try to make amends some other way).

Perhaps given the situation, Pinoy netizens realized that disseminating wrong information would damage the credibility of the very media that was being used to repair typhoon damage.

Whatever the reason, it would be good for us to continue this self-correcting behavior on the internet. It is one of the only ways to keep our trust in the new media.

So there we go.

Six things that passed us by while Ondoy was happening. Six points that emphasize a change our relationship with media, old and new.

Whether you agree or not, please send me your comments and I will try to discuss them in next installments.
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