It’s easier than ever to document our lives in detail. Sometimes those details are completely useless, like those that post about their anticipation of eating a bowl of instant mac and cheese, and sinking into the couch for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon, then clicking the like button of their own status update. I’m sure those using it for trivial purposes often outnumber those being creative and smart with the limited features Facebook has to offer. It isn’t a blog, it isn’t a replacement for print and network journalism, or even a source of effective entertainment networking with so called games and apps that become braindead boring after five seconds. But nearly everybody uses it now, across generations, family and friends, dogs and cats, and those that do it creatively are changing the way history is written and recorded.
Television and print media used to be the bastion of journalistic integrity. Or at least we’d like to think of it that way. Nobody remembers the tabloids, just the Edward R. Murrows and Walter Cronkites that actually worked hard to tell us what was going on in the world. They rarely ever stopped to talk up a storm filled with their opinion of the stories they were brining in, and if they did, they were just classier about it. But with the evolution of the internet, do it yourself journalism, and instant access to every political speech gaff, local street battle turned international war, and kitties breaking up siblings’ fights by puking on the floor next to them, traditional media has found itself with some pretty tough competition. Traditional media no longer has the luxury of falling back on its reputation and the hard work of its icons to draw in viewers. Instead, they now rely on entertainment and verbal masturbation to keep their viewers from changing the channel, treating every consumer like a hyper dog that froths at the mouth when exposed to apocalyptic stimuli like giant plumes of radioactive thunderclouds carving a path of Chernobylitic destruction across an entire ocean and nation like a tornado ripping through your backyard. That actually sounds like a show I’d like to watch, if it was actually happening. The modern corporate media now stays afloat solely by holding onto readers' and viewers’ attention spans, keeping advertising revenues high to cover their growing production costs of making up the news every night.
On the other hand, Facebook. Not exactly do it yourself journalism, but it’s user-base is so vast that it is becoming the most accessible and reliable alternative to traditional media, usually through people posting pictures that show what is happening rather than telling, and through character limited status updates to provide a little context. Corporate media has no such limit, although it should.
Facebook was the early hero during the aftermath of the giant quake and tsunami that I witnessed in north-eastern Japan. With no power, water, gas, internet, and a nearly blacked-out mobile service that was bound to grind to a halt completely once everyone’s lithuim-ion batteries went dead, communicating with anyone was a slow as the 19th century. I managed to send out a mail to my father from my Japanese cell phone, which I had never done before, I had always used Hotmail. The message likely ended up in his junkbox where it sat for days as he tried to contact me. I was listed as a Canadian missing Sendai after the disaster, with newspapers reporting that any all contact had been cut-off to the city. When my father finally discovered my e-mail, he didn’t recognize the address of the sender. It was a quick message “—big quake. no power but am doing fine at Aya’s (my gf)—“ He and my brother posted it to my wall on Facebook and within hours there were dozens of responses from my friends and former co-workers who began networking with each other to identify my address, confirm that it was me, confirm where my girlfriend actually lived and that it wasn’t anywhere near the ocean and undamaged by the tsunami. The Canadian media got a hold of it, interviewed my father, posted my name and picture all over the internet and wrote about the role of Facebook during the mess, and that was that. Thanks Facebook, for doing the job the media and government used to do. Though to be fair, as my father says, if this had happened thirty years ago, it would’ve been weeks before my status was known. Thanks go to technology, not necessarily just Facebook.
Facebook and Youtube remain the best and most accurate source of information for me about the local disaster. The Japanese media is, of course, doing its job. But for me, getting English information about what actually happened, the status of some of the towns I used to teach in and the fate of its citizens has been a task taken up by Facebook. Dozens of my friends and former co-workers have posted their first-hand accounts, pics, and videos of the disaster. It was Facebook updates from friends that showed me the damage to Tagajo-city, the town where my current job had an outservice at a kindergarten. It was Youtube that showed me the video that caused that damage. Searching through an endless mess of media coverage in Japan and the West just didn’t provide me the information I was seeking. The CBC was too focused on measuring radiation levels in Ontario and slacking out some weaksauce reports from Canadians in Tokyo that I can only assume are the family members of CBC’s managing staff or something. Otherwise such a report wouldn’t even be worthy of a Facebook status update.
And here is another report even further away from the situation. (Nagoya = 500 km away from Sendai and 400km from Fukushima.) The anchor actually asks "Tell us about the fear level?" How is someone supposed to respond? Um...fear level 10! Fear level Alpha! Infinity fear!
Living In Tokyo Post Quake æŠ•ç¨¿è€… tvnportal (A Canadian in Japan, for those outside Canada.)
NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, was the champion of the traditional media outlets. Those closest to the situation always are, but it too was rather busy with spewing out corporate tow-lines of the company in charge of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Early reporting was exceptionally vague, at least about the nuclear situation, and almost entirely ignored the plight of the people in the nearby surroundings until anti-nuclear and anti-government demonstrators took to the streets in Tokyo. It was the Facebook social network that provided me with a link to daily updates on radiation levels throughout northeast Japan, not NHK.
Newspaper and television journalism never really did have the intention or capability of providing each viewer with individualized reports of information they were seeking. But Facebook is doing just that. Nobody is ever expected to embed themselves into wars and report on it, although it has been and is still attempted in the name of journalism. Nobody can expect a TV reporter and the camera-man to show up thirty seconds later and start giving the world an accurate update, but Facebook users can. The social and information networking site gives people the power of do it yourself reporting and journalism, in real time. It has the ability to trickle down to the single individual and his immediate family, or cycle all the way up to the international level, becoming a legimate contender for the title of “Super-reporter and king of telling us about shit that happens.” It could be a lie, and possibly all made up. But if it’s not for profit and nobody has anything to gain from such deception, why would it be? Not to mention the generally self-correcting nature that has made Facebook, Youtube, and Wikipedia so powerful.
It’s not perfect, but it has done more for me and others than the CBC’s ‘yournews’ link, that they never seem to respond to.