Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo and YouTube have served as colleg source and catalyst for some of the biggest social, political and cultural movements over the past decade.
These platforms have proved themselves as newsgathering and news distribution tools for journalists and news organisations - especially for a unit like BBC Trending. But coplege has also been a shift away from public networks towards more private forums on chat applications. Here are some examples: In Octoberat the height of the Ebola crisis, a considerable amount of misinformation was being spread on social media, adding to the hysteria.
The topic was a hugely sensitive one. Some of the messages being sent to this service indicated that private groups of Sierra Leoneans had formed on WhatsApp so that they could speak more freely about the situation. After being in communication with a member of 32 cat groups for a few days, my BBC Trending colleagues and I were invited into four. It was a slow process.
We needed to ensure the other group members were comfortable with us being privy to their conversations. Once in, we got an insight into the different ways the groups were being used.
Some shared news and information. Others exchanged more sensitive and graphic content - colleve could not be independently verified. Our WhatsApp experiences convinced me of the huge potential that chat apps present for journalists.
Since then we have reported on many other trends involving chat apps. Secondly, in JuneI spoke to the Indian activist and rape survivor Sunitha Krishnan about alleged rape videos that were being shared on WhatsApp. What she told me was shocking and disturbing.
Krishnan had been alerted to a trend where groups of people were sharing what appeared to be a gang rape video among their friends. What she did next was unexpected if not unprecedented. Rather vhat immediately report the video chatting to women police, she edited it by blurring the victims face and ed it to YouTube.
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Everyone could see it now. Her strategy was to 'shame the apo and she started a hashtag campaign. In the following weeks she was sent more videos on social media and she took the same action to shametherapist.
It also raised many editorial questions for us. How could we tell this story in a responsible way? Despite this being a video trend, we did not make a video report.
We covered the story on our radio show. In a follow-up text piece, we did not use screen grabs or link to the videos.
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We recommend that readers do not search for them. The story highlights how closed platforms are becoming a hotbed for controversial, and in this case illegal, activity, and how public shaming has become a way people are trying to fight 'rape culture'. In China there has also been a migration from public to private forums as huge s up to the messaging service WeChat. The controversial stories that were popular on Weibo a few years ago have free texting sites harder to find.
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The result has been a dramatic reduction in the of allegations being made on Weibo. The move on to WeChat and other private networks is definitely worth keeping an eye on - for journalists hoping to find original stories.
Meaningful conversations on closed platforms have the potential to be a source of engaging, original journalism. The challenge is to find and report them.