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LATIN AMERICA
Empowered citizens: the Internet as a force for social movements
Esther Vargas*
4/23/2015
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Journalists and the media have like never before had to face something that was not in their plans: the power of citizens to generate information that was previously in the realm of news organizations. While many experts say that talking about citizen journalism is like exchanging the doctor for the healer, the truth is that citizens have become spokespersons for their issues and direct plaintiffs before society for what affects them or please them. In many cases they are working in groups created by journalists, that is, they become journalists’ partners or allies.

Regardless of whether we should call them ‘citizen journalists’ or not, these people — who are activists in most cases — have changed the rules of journalism in an increasingly globalized world where the power to inform no longer lies with the most important media of Peru, Brazil, Mexico or any country in Latin America and the world in general.
 
The new media 
Journalism has become a scenario rich with experiences. The so-called new media emerged from dissatisfaction with the power of managers and those who have always had the final say when deciding on front pages and determining coverage. The new media are characterized by their independence from these, as in the case of La Silla Vacía (The Empty Chair) in Colombia or Animal Político (Political Animal) in Mexico. 
 
However, in economic terms, the battle is tough. But creativity has no limits. Examples range from collective funding to diversifying office space in search of more affordable locations that do not interfere with the journalistic objective.
 
Activism has always sought media attention, but the democratization of the Internet has given activists an individual yet collective voice that today they seem to use well. Frédéric Martel, the French sociologist, author of “Global Gay and Mainstream Culture” was in Lima last October. In a conversation with the author of this article, Martel mentioned that never before did social movements have such an important avenue as the Internet. He referred specifically to the gay community, which had found in the Internet powerful tools to communicate its message. Latin America, and especially Peru, stands out with this so-called ‘gay revolution’, with Facebook or Twitter hosting groups that have made themselves heard without the need for media, which have rarely had the intent to follow a specific social demand.
 
To take advantage of what the Internet provides, activists today create their own media spaces, such as a Facebook page or a website, which are powerful communication platforms as long as they are properly managed.
 
Activists are increasingly interested in understanding what is happening on the Internet and how to get around totalitarian media. The truth is that they are succeeding. And that is good news for journalists because we have more challenges and more opportunities to work in partnership. Why not? I don´t fear citizens. They are welcome! It´s time to accept that in many cases, they know more than we.

This history tells of great creativity and of interconnected survival that seek to break the media schemes.

Mídia Ninja, the unofficial coverage of the World Cup
Mídia Ninja (Independent Narratives, Journalism and Action) was born in Brazil in 2011 as a proposal for alternative journalism. The ninjas of journalism, armed with cell phones and 4G devices, have used their website and social networks to provide information that the mainstream media do not offer. Between 2011 and today, Midia Ninja is already proof of how citizen feelings can cross boundaries.
 
Experienced journalists and citizen enthusiasts revealed the other side of the 2014 World Cup. The ninjas covered the Brazil where no one screamed “gol” and that was the scene of clashes between citizens and authorities. The media had to turn their cameras and recorders toward the street movements. The account of violence from the World Cup is known, but what is perhaps less known is how citizens helped show a reality that was masked by the magnificence of the sporting event.

More than 18,000 journalists were accredited for the soccer festival. Initially, the attention was not on the streets, but groups like Midia Ninja changed the focus, at least partially. Those who joined these groups now feel more represented and fed up with traditional media. For a journalist working in traditional media, it is hard to accept that we are not alone. What we don´t report, citizens will disseminate in their own ways. Sometimes they do not even need to join groups. Twitter and Facebook, their blogs or websites are enough to be heard.
 
#AyotzinapaSomosTodos
 Mexico is bleeding because of the 43 missing students. The whole world joins in screaming the hashtag #AyotzinapaSomosTodos. The daily dialogue goes beyond Twitter and Facebook, even beyond Mexico. It crosses borders. Today, citizens are not controlled by imposing governments and the media, which can have a single voice and be closed to the truth. The networks rage.

When the Mexican Attorney General José Murillo Karam stated in a press conference that the students were probably dead and that he had said enough, Mexicans from different states took Murillo´s phrase #YAMECANSÉ and tweeted it, retweeted it, and turned it into a meme. It became so viral that it reached the Angel of Independence Monument in downtown Mexico City and various plazas where Murillo and his unfortunate expression showed much of the world how a country can be fed up with the state, organized crime and violence in general.

The Mexican journalists who are members of associations such as Periodistas de a Pie (Journalists on Foot) use a Facebook group to inform colleagues in other parts of the world about what is happening in their country and things that the media often do not report. From the winner of the excellence in journalism award of the Gabriel García Márquez Foundation for New Latin American Journalism (FNPI), Marcela Turati, to reporters who are just starting in the profession, these journalists use the Internet to tell stories that could be relegated to more obscure articles in the daily paper or could simply go untold.
 
We hence have learned of the origin of Trinchera (Trench), an independent medium developed by journalists from the Mexican state of Guerrero. Trinchera offers analysis, contextual information and in-depth investigations.

Regardless of the attempts to stifle it, journalism is more alive than ever. Social networks are notable allies to give a voice to those who do not have the opportunity to make their voices heard or make the invisible visible.
 
With this purpose of making the invisible increasingly more visible, on Nov. 11 the digital medium LGBTIQ was created to give visibility to the problems and the achievements of the lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex and queer community. As part of the Sin Etiquetas (Unlabeled) project — an avenue for information and dialogue on the LGBTIQ community in Latin America —, we have gathered nearly 50 partners in the region, including journalists who feel overwhelmed with the indifference of the media to a reality that involves us all.
 
Overall, these are good times for journalism, and good times for citizens who thanks to the Internet can go from posting memes to disseminating urgent and quality information.
 
*Peruvian journalist with 20 years of experience. She is currently the social media editor for the newspaper El Peruano and Agencia Andina, Director of the website Clases de Periodismo and of the alternative online medium Sin Etiquetas. She teaches at the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo  Iberoamericano (FNPI), at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico (Master of Digital Journalism), Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University, Peru, and at Chile´s Universidad Mayor.


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The power of social networks and the Internet has allowed that cases like Ayotzinapa go viral. / Animal Político
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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