Social media as witness

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Social media can be a powerful tool, especially when considering how it empowers regular people with the ability to reach a large audience. It certainly played a prominent role in the Arab Spring protests of 2010, when protestors took to Twitter and Facebook to document the uncensored reality of their experience. Robert Mackey, a writer for the Lede Blog at the New York Times, says Ukranian protesters are utilizing social media in a similar way. In fact, the platform has proven useful for combating what some Ukranians feel is the Russian agenda in media coverage: Portraying the situation as spiraling out of control, and violently so. 

"The core of this group - the people who started the protest movement in Kiev - are using Twitter and YouTube and Instagram to point to evidence of a different picture. They’re posting videos and images of peaceful protests. They’re also posting video of what they say are provocateurs coming from Russia to start trouble. In a way, they’re trying to chip away at the Russian narrative."

According to Mackey, the situation makes for an interesting challenge as a journalist, especially when looking specifically at what people are posting as opposed to reporting on personal experience.

"This is somewhat similar to doing historical research. You can’t actually go to the French Revolution now and watch it for yourself, but you can find, and of course historians do find, firsthand accounts of things that can give remarkable insights."

The larger effect social media will may or may not have on the situation in Ukraine remains to be seen, but it is certainly creating a powerful new dynamic in how the world witnesses the events as they unfold.

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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