"Facebook and Twitter" Outperform The Media in Covering The Iraqi Demonstrations
The Iraqi Media House monitors in its forty-fourth report how social media contributed to covering the October demonstrations in Iraq, how it outperformed traditional media in many aspects, and how social media became an indispensable source for traditional media in its demonstrations' daily coverage, Likewise, how the citizen's press developed rapidly and remarkably.
In early October 2019, large demonstrations were launched against the government, calling for an end to corruption, the quota system, and mismanagement, in addition to stopping the formation of successive governments.However, the demonstrations were violently confronted by the authority. After three weeks on October 25, 2019, the demonstrations renewed to become the largest and broadest, which included ten Iraqi cities, which were met with violence, and the demonstrations are still ongoing.
The media were subjected to direct threats by armed actors. Also, armed groups have blocked other TV channels. While journalists and media personnel were threatened by unknown persons due to their demonstrations' coverage, while some journalists were forced to stop their work, others were forced to leave Baghdad towards the Kurdistan region and outside the country.
These measures were accompanied by the decision of the Iraqi government to ban Internet service for days. Then it returned, but with poor service, and ban on social media, which prompted Iraqis to use VPN programs to unblock the social media sites. Facebook and Twitter later turned into the most important news source about demonstrations for the local, Arab and international media, as well as a source for international organizations concerned with human rights and freedom of opinion and expression.
The monitoring report reached the following results:
1- The events of the demonstrations revealed the profound gaps facing the Iraqi media after 2003 when they adopted coverage that expressing their affiliation with certain parties or personalities and far from what happens in the demonstrations. The events also revealed that the country's steps towards democracy and endeavors to establish the principles of freedom of opinion and expression and the protection of freedom of the press and journalists may subject the breakdown at any moment, which indicates the absence of a sound and consistent foundation for these concepts. Where the media were attacked by gunmen to prevent them from covering the protests, while the authorities issued decisions to shut down some of the effective channels and broadcasts, while the journalists and media workers felt at risk during carrying out their mission safely.
2- The social media sites in the country have turned remarkably to the main source for covering the ongoing demonstrations in the country, through hundreds of bloggers and regular users who have been publishing news of the demonstrations in every governorate and hour by hour, which has made them outperform the traditional media.
3- It was noted that most of the news content in the media related to breaking news comes from social media sites and includes news, videos and pictures, and the media did not hesitate to publish that these videos, pictures, and news by indicating that their source is social media, with almost complete absence of media coverage in the field which is limited to dialogue programs with the demonstrators.
4- The "Iraqi Media House" recorded the absence of professional coverage by the media, and its division into two groups. The first one ignored the coverage completely and produced opposite coverage of it, or covered it in a shy and limited manner, and the second contributed to covering the demonstrations broadly through dialogue programs that push the speakers to praise the channel for advertising purposes.
5- The emergence of a young generation blogging about the Iraqi demonstrations. These young people contributed to the spread of citizen journalism on a large scale, and their publications and tweets became a major source of public opinion, as well as for the media and those interested in the latest developments of demonstrations in the ten cities that witnessed demonstrations.Not only that, but the coverage even included demonstrations in the small areas inside each city, and it was noted that these bloggers warned against publishing fake news from photos and videos for fear of their credibility and losing their audience.
6- After the ban on social media was lifted, the Iraqi trend has reappeared in the geographical location of Iraq, because the use of VPN programs during the ban period has led to the disappearance of the Iraq trend due to the changing geographical location of bloggers and public users.
7- Hours after the Iraqi trend returned, electronic armies suddenly activated to launch delusional hashtags. Some of these hashtags got an advanced trend, but the involvement of bloggers and the majority of Iraqis in reporting events and commenting on them according to real news coming from the demonstrations arenas contributed to the decline of these hashtags and not interacting with them.
8- Media affiliated with certain entities used the social media sites as a source for the coverage of their agendas, as it was noted that these media used fake news, pictures and video clips published by electronic armies, as a basic material in their demonstrations' coverage.
1- The media, of all kinds, visible and readable, should develop its mechanisms of action, especially in times of big events, such as demonstrations, by activating its social media pages to publish current news through its correspondents spread in cities and towns, even if video and images are photographed via a mobile phone. They should also encourage citizen journalism by allocating an email or phone number to provide it with news received by the public while stressing the need for a specialized team to identify fake news.
2- The media that rely on social media in publishing demonstrations ' news should publish the account owner who published this news for two important reasons: The first is to give credibility to the news and invite the public to see directly the owner of the account and verify the news that he published on his personal page. Secondly, to ensure the blogger's right to ownership of his news and videos, because many bloggers are unemployed and are looking for an opportunity to work in the media, and they use their personal page to promote their experiences, briefings, and events' coverage.
3- Also, bloggers must gain experience in the political, security, economic, social and cultural events, to avoid publishing news or launching a hashtag that raises sensitivities or hate speech that leads to the result of harming cities, residents or individuals through racist expressions or indicating the underestimation of groups.