Social media and journalism: Shaming tool or a barometer of social climate?

Malay Mail Online executive director Leslie Lau speaks at the Cooler Lumpur Festival’s Poskod Journalism Campus discussion in Kuala Lumpur, June 12, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Malay Mail Online executive director Leslie Lau speaks at the Cooler Lumpur Festival’s Poskod Journalism Campus discussion in Kuala Lumpur, June 12, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 12 — Is social media a boon or bane when it comes to news gathering and writing?

A panel made up of editors from Malay Mail Online, Cilisos.my and Projek Dialog said while social media is often used as a public shaming tool, it also helps to surface many issues like racism and sexism.

They were participating in Cooler Lumpur Festival’s Poskod Journalism Campus discussion: Too Fast, Too Furious? The Pace of Journalism Today.

Malay Mail Online executive director Leslie Lau pointed out that while there will always be those who make criticisms behind the Internet’s veil of anonymity, social media forces accountability among public officials and boosts the government’s accessibility to the public.

“There’s always going to be people commenting on FB hiding behind anonymity. Some people get the public shaming they don’t deserve, but there is something to be said about personal responsibility... think before you post,” Lau said.

“What the Internet and social media has done is give a sense of accountability to the government and authorities and hold them responsible,” he said, adding that government officials are slowly beginning to realise that they have to respond to questions or comments on social media.

Projek Dialog director Ahmad Fuad Rahmat added that while controversial issues are often talked about online, rarely does it create discourse about larger issues.

“What we see today in a lot of news is mass shaming and we rarely pause to think whenever we share a link that we are effectively ruining somebody else’s reputation,” he said.

Projek Dialog director Ahmad Fuad Rahmat (right) said that while controversial issues are often talked about online, rarely does it create discourse about larger issues. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Projek Dialog director Ahmad Fuad Rahmat (right) said that while controversial issues are often talked about online, rarely does it create discourse about larger issues. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Ahmad added that while news consumption is getting quicker and easier thanks to nifty mobile devices, the quality of discourse resulting from the news is sorely lacking, creating a community more interested in public shaming before they quickly lose interest.

“Even though we might want to trumpet about how information is getting much quicker now and there’s an ocean of options to click on and explore but for the most part, we’re either going to waste our time shaming somebody and not really getting to the bottom of anything and then forgetting it in a week.”

Cilisos.my’s editor Chak Onn Lau speaks at the Cooler Lumpur Festival’s Poskod Journalism Campus discussion in Kuala Lumpur, June 12, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Cilisos.my’s editor Chak Onn Lau speaks at the Cooler Lumpur Festival’s Poskod Journalism Campus discussion in Kuala Lumpur, June 12, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Cilisos.my’s Chak Onn Lau said that is where a website like his has the middle ground. While they cannot match the speed of other news portals, they take the time to find a different angle and in cases of highly emotive issues… temper emotions.

While today’s consumers prefer their news in short bursts, “there is still a great demand for well-written journalism.”

He, however, said it was absolutely shameful that some news portals would “steal” other people’s stories in their quest to populate their websites.

So who “won”? Fast or slow journalism? The consensus was clear: good journalism.

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