Citizen Journalism on Twitter: A New Age
Twitter effectively serves as the world’s “Town Square” where discussions surrounding ideas that can shape society take place. There has been much talk of “Citizen Journalism” since Elon Musk took over Twitter. What the term entails and how Twitter, as a platform, can empower citizen journalists are questions that will need answering as we continue our journey through a transformative digital era that has witnessed the gradual democratization of the journalist profession. Allowing more people to participate in the marketplace of ideas will inject more nuance into what can be serious conversations and expand the Overton Window of discourse. Ideas that were once suppressed by ideological gatekeepers will now have the opportunity to be aired and pressure tested by the public. That is the value proposition of Citizen Journalism.
Twitter is offering three core features to empower Citizen Journalists:
To set the stage we take a look at the current state of media. According to Gallup, American trust in mass media institutions has tanked. Trust is down across all political demographics with the Democrats being the sole exception; this is an industry ripe for disruption.
Trust is a necessary prerequisite for media consumption; in the past, who to trust and what to trust was arbitrated by Legacy Media oligarchies. The old paradigm gave a handful of institutions the ability to cancel, smear, and discredit (or uplift, celebrate, and promote) anyone for any reason with those reasons, in some cases, being questionable. As Malcolm X noted:
“The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
― Malcolm X
Now with the advances being made in social media, regular people are able to play active roles in trust brokering essentially making Twitter a Trust as a Service (TaaS) offering. Community Notes, for example, has allowed Twitter users to collectively work to verify the information shared by tweets hosted on the platform. In the future censoring ideological opposition through corrupt institutional fact-checking protocols will be harder to accomplish. Community Notes has effectively democratized fact-checking by allowing Twitter users to act as Citizen Journalists so they can investigate and verify content for audience consumption.
Elon Musk himself has been fact-checked by Community Notes showing that even as a key figure, he is not immune to scrutiny or having his claims challenged on Twitter. A couple of the notable accounts that have been corrected by Community Notes include the White House, and (ironically) Glenn Kessler who has served as the “Editor and chief writer of The Washington Post's Fact Checker since 2011.” Democratizing fact-checking has given people the ability to hold their thought leaders responsible and speak the truth to power.
Verification provides another piece of the puzzle by giving people a way to differentiate between humans and bots on Twitter. Old Twitter verification processes were application based and it was arbitrarily determined who got approved vs who got denied for a Blue Checkmark. New Twitter now allows anyone to get verified by subscribing to Twitter Blue which grants credibility and gives regular people access to additional platform features. Currently, it’s estimated that Twitter Blue has around 385,000 mobile subscriptions with the number of web subscriptions uncertain; given that Twitter has about 450 million users, there is a lot of room to grow platform subscriptions. One idea to boost Twitter Blue signups is to give those to purchase verification a single free subscription to their favorite content creators who would get a portion of the transaction; this would accomplish two things:
Give the buyer access to something they value: more content from their favorite creator
Create incentives for creators to market Twitter Blue and Blue Check verification systems
From a quick skim of my paid subscribers on Twitter around 50% of them aren’t verified; assuming the trend replicates across other creator accounts that is a lot of people who are willing to pay for content they care about but are not subscribed to Twitter Blue for verification.
Twitter is also providing pathways to Creator Monetization; there are 2 approaches so far:
With a 3rd:
Being worked on by the Twitter team. Allowing creators to earn money for sharing their content on Twitter allows for much more freedom while simultaneously being able to reach a large audience. Before social media, the primary means of reaching a large audience was through direct employment with a large media institution; now anyone with the wits and merit can market themselves on Twitter and make a living off of it.
Someone asked whether Citizen Journalism can be something that inspires children. How much we want kids on social media is a matter of its own but if anything good comes from citizen journalism, I hope it’s to inspire a new generation of curious minds seeking truth. I hope the story of The Rabbit Hole can serve as an inspiration and motivate some people to start their online journeys.
Despite being anonymous my accounts have racked up sizable followings exceeding 180,000 followers on Twitter, thousands of Substack followers, and have attracted a comparable number of impressions as the views garnered by large media outlets like CNN and MSNBC. Citizen Journalism is a chance for regular people, like myself, to put themselves out there and make a difference.
Elon Musk has noted:
"I think it is possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary."
— Elon Musk
It is also my hope that the expanding landscape of content creation will pave the way for more Citizen Journalists to make an impact on the discourse surrounding topics they care about.