Friday, February 12, 2010

Virtual Media Backwardness

I'm currently back in North America for a few weeks and am amazed by how much most of my friends and colleagues are so connected in their use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
While constantly updating their status is a given to them, for us in China, is a thrill if we are able to jump over the Great Firewall that censors or blocks websites and be able to log on.
After not having access to these websites in China since July, it's strange to be able to log onto them so easily and type in my status for everyone to see and also be able to read the instantaneous feedback.
This morning on CBC Radio's Q, I heard an interview with a journalist from Montreal who tried an experiment where he and a few other French journalists only used social networking sites as their only sources for news, though they were allowed to click on the links that were provided for the full news stories.
He found this situation very strange, but it was an opportunity to see how the younger generation, or what they call "digital natives" consume their news, and most of them do get their current affairs information from social networking sites. What was interesting was that some of the stories were incorrect, or were rumours, and they were not corrected in any way, which can be misleading.
After a week of this experiment, the journalist concluded that it was absolutely crucial for people in the media to be connected one way or another through these kinds of websites. That's because he says that news is not only consumed, but sent out by citizen journalists as well. He gave the example of the Iranian woman Neda Agha-Soltan who was filmed being fatally shot during the post-election protests in June and how this was uploaded quickly and spread all over the world. That's why he felt it was important for reporters to engage with these citizen journalists as they may have a scoop on a story, or to get first hand information from them.
And this is where Chinese media is going to fall far behind from the rest of the pack.
If networking sites are the wave of the future, China is not going to be surfing it.
The Chinese government is so intent on trying to influence the world through its "soft power" by expanding its media outlets... and one of the best ways to engage your audience or potential audience is through social networking sites.
But the longer the government delays allowing its citizens to get access to sites like Facebook and Twitter and their Chinese equivalents, the further behind the country will be in communicating its messages across to the rest of the world.
And how is that supposed to help China's cause?

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