How credible are social media, are they reliable sources of information, and should journalists use them for their coverage?
Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil raised these three and other pertinent questions in an address to mass communications students and faculty members at Qatar University in October.
Magda Abu-Fadil lectures on social media and ethics at Qatar University
Abu-Fadil touched on how legacy media are increasingly using tips and reports disseminated through social media in conflict zones and in light of widespread terrorism but that verification remained a major challenge.
QU’s Mass Communications Director Dr. Mahmoud Galandar with Abu-Fadil
She used case studies from coverage of demonstrations in Lebanon and how the media interpreted the civil society and rioters’ presence in the streets during a lecture entitled “Rise of Social Media on the Media Landscape: Impact on Media Ethics.”
Skills digital journalist needs
Abu-Fadil also tracked the evolution of social media and their incorporation into integrated multimedia news operations serving consumers across various platforms using mostly mobile digital devices.
She stressed the need for critical thinking to deconstruct social media messages and posts and understand what positive and negative impact they have on recipients.
Abu-Fadil with Qatar University students
On a second day, Abu-Fadil conducted a workshop for QU students on the use of social media and online journalism, notably the ubiquity of mobile journalists (mojos).
Social media and online journalism workshop at QU
The workshop included a general knowledge test for the students as well as tips on how to verify online data, and case studies of unethical media behavior online.
To meet 21st century audiences’ and users’ needs, journalists and newsroom managers must be fully engaged, must capitalize on social media, and must update their news gathering and production operations, Qatar-based journalists were told.
Abu-Fadil provides editing pointers
The advice was part of a two-day workshop Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil provided at a workshop in Doha at the headquarters of Al-Sharq daily newspaper and news portal.
The October 2015 event aimed at providing professional development advice and practical training to writers, reporters, editors and the daily’s portal content producers.
Al Sharq editors and writers attend professional development workshop
Abu-Fadil showed participants how the editorial departments of the newspaper and a common newsroom could be turned into a control center complemented by mobile journalists, user-generated content and social media.
Q & A on media ethics
She also engaged them in a lively presentation and discussion on media ethics.
U.S. Embassy Information Officer Sacha Fraiture and Abu-Fadil
A second component of the workshop zeroed in on digital-first journalism with case studies on how best to implement it.
Al Sharq journalists, Fraiture and Abu-Fadil
The State Department’s U.S. Speaker Program, in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy in Qatar, organized the workshop.
Becoming a journalist today requires a modified skill set to the one needed decades ago, but the principles of news gathering, fact checking, story telling and ethics remain the same, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told students in Doha.
Informal lunch talk with Georgetown-Qatar students and faculty
Abu-Fadil showed her audience how she had evolved as a reporter whose local and foreign assignments meant excellent preparations for stories through constant learning and knowledge as well as what was then available as tools of the trade.
Evolution of a journalist
The tools included notebooks, pens, recorders, batteries, cameras, lenses, filters, flashlights, tripods, and typewriters.
Mobile journalists, or mojos, including herself, using mobile, portable, connected devices have mostly replaced those earlier items, although several remain staples for reporters and photographers, she said.
Questions on whether it’s worth becoming a journalist
In another meeting with Georgetown students, Abu-Fadil spoke on media, culture and politics in the Middle East, focusing primarily on ethics (or the lack thereof) in print, broadcast, online and social media.
Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil weighed in on a hot ethics topic following a Twitter slugfest during which a journalist and an activist carried on battling during a Lebanese TV talk show.
Journalist Ghadi Francis in a controversial tweet described the Syrian city of Douma as “meshwiyyeh” (Arabic for grilled or barbequed) by barrel bombs dropped on it that kill untold numbers of civilians.
Screen shot of Twitter shouting match over Douma
When her label struck a raw nerve with opponents of the Syrian regime that’s accused of using these weapons, Francis then tweeted “if grilled doesn’t cut it, then it’s ‘maslouqa’ (boiled).”
That prompted activist Sara Assaf to lunge back: “This is what idiotic @ghadifrancis, a ‘journalist’ at @OTVLebanon had to say about #Douma massacre. WLEK TFOUUU (I spit on you).
Enter Paula Yacoubian, host of the political talk show “Inter-Views” on Lebanon’s Future TV, who, also in a tweet, invited both women to further expound on the matter on her program in February 2015.
Asked if there were guidelines to follow in social media under pressures of war and conflict, Abu-Fadil replied: “There are standards. While we have freedom to express ourselves through social media, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a sense of responsibility.”
Paula Yacoubian Inter-Views Magda Abu-Fadil on social media ethics
Abu-Fadil also referred to the five core values of journalism, expounded by Ethical Journalism Network director Aidan White in a video: as accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity and accountability.
She argued that they apply equally to bloggers, activists and non-journalists using social media.
“What we’re seeing a lot on social media are reflexive answers, where someone tweets something and another person replies reflexively, with no consideration for critical thinking,” she said.
Abu-Fadil added that one has to stop and think about the repercussions of tweets and whether they could cause harm.
“What’s this incredible accomplishment of contributing to hate speech? It’s disgraceful. We’ve reached a level of unprecedented degeneration,” she noted.
Use and abuse of social media has become the “new battleground” in conflict coverage with Gaza being a recent example.
“A click is often faster than legwork to obtain information and shape it into good story form,” said Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil. “I believe the same rules apply to social media as legacy media in terms of coverage and good journalism, albeit in more condensed form and at greater speed: accuracy, balance, fairness, ethics.”
She discussed the implications in “Information wars: how journalists navigated social media in the Israel-Palestine conflict,” for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).
Screen shot of WAN-IFRA’s Information Wars
Read more from Abu-Fadil on emotions, comments, images and videos used by warring factions via social media in a blogpost by Lucy Dean. A [PDF] version is available here.
How is the Syrian war playing out on social media? Are reports by citizen journalists and activists credible?
Is it “the most socially mediated civil conflict in history” and can we agree with a study’s conclusion that “social media have revolutionized the way that the world has understood the Syrian conflict?”
Screen shot of Syria’s “Twitter Jihad”
According to Magda Abu-Fadil, social media are a double-edged sword.
“[Social media] help provide vital information that traditional media have been unable to obtain, but they also have misused it to disseminate disinformation,” says Abu-Fadil, a veteran journalist in the region. “One has to take it on a case-by–case basis.”
Read more from Media Unlimited’s director on media ethics, propaganda, information verification, photos and videos in “Syria’s ‘Twitter Jihad’: Social media is hardly immune from the fog of war,’ an article in Global Journalist. A [PDF] version is available here.
Media and Information Literacy Curriculum for Teachers
Abu-Fadil underscored the importance of digital literacy and deconstructed it during the workshop in May 2014 using case studies and videos to illustrate the point.
She reviewed key competencies needed for MIL such as knowledge and understanding of media and information for democratic discourses and social participation, evaluation of media texts and information sources, and, production and use of media and information.
Teachers at IC’s Ain Aar campus learn about media literacy
The training also centered on how to engage with students in a multimedia environment and across various platforms.
Abu-Fadil demonstrated how social media tools such as Twitter have become an integral part of the teaching and learning process.
MU director conducts workshop on media and information literacy at Lebanon’s International College
The discussion also touched on accessing information in an effective and affective way, the importance of critical thinking, and methods of evaluating media-related information.
A tweet promoting the “First-Ever Guide to Online Media Ethics” [PDF] led Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil to seek out its author in a bid to disseminate it to journalists, bloggers, trainees and students across the Arab World.
The announcement by Andrea Gallo, a Louisiana State University (LSU) student on the birth of her publication, prompted Abu-Fadil to obtain the booklet and oversee its translation into Arabic.
Various organizations have published online media ethics guidelines but few have made the effort to disseminate them in an easy-to-use Arabic-language compendium.
Rouba El-Helou, a media studies faculty member and journalist, translated the text into Arabic and Abu-Fadil edited the booklet [PDF].
The guide is well thought out and its sections cover news judgment and conflicts, transparency, sourcing ethics, knowing your audience, plagiarism, when problems arise, photos and art, and social media.
Governments, notably in the Arab World, have increasingly slapped on penalties or sentences on producers of online content they deem offensive, and have equated such content with that of print publications.
In other countries officials have begun to deal with the issue through restrictive legislation such as requiring online media to obtain a license to operate, leading to a whole set of ethical problems.
A tectonic shift has occurred for media coverage in Syria with information gathering and dissemination evolving from assigning correspondents to the conflict to relying on citizen journalists and content from social media.
“We’re being bombarded with messages from every direction at breakneck speed, the likes of which we’ve never seen before,” Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil said.
Syria’s civil war plays out on social media: AP
She told The Associated Press that as the conflict became more dangerous, legacy news organizations have had to turn to non-traditional means to fill their pages, air time and websites.
This has meant publishing and broadcasting text, photos and videos from ordinary citizens, activists, warriors and anybody with a mobile device, Internet connection or functioning telephone line.