Anyone has the power to make a change for what’s right, no matter who you are. Abbie Alwell explores this through the impacts of three individual situations.
When traditional journalism goes quiet, citizen journalism gets loud. As cliché as this sounds, the most topical issues we speak on have became relevant due to their circulation on social media. Ordinary people with ordinary mobile phones and ordinary social media accounts – their reporting resonates with the public more than an ordinary newsroom ever could.
The reason for this is different for everyone. You might identify with these stories on a personal level, stressing on the emotional aspect of it. You might be struck by the familiarity of those who’s story is broadcasted online (“They’re just like me. That could have been me.”) . Or, you find a shaky camera, poor lighting and one strong message radiating from it too raw to scroll past (like myself.)
I have chosen the method of researching case studies in my topic, as three individual people stood out to me. I’d heard of their names countless times, be it on social media or in everyday conversations, and wondered to myself, “Where did it go from there?”. They capture the reality of citizen journalism’s impact on media reliability, as they are stories of real people and go further than a figure or a statistic. More importantly, they highlight the need for change.
Emma Murphy Fights Back
In 2015, Emma Murphy sat at the bottom of her stairs. Her two young children played in the background. Emma had a black eye. Hesitantly, she began to record herself: “He hit me…,” she tells the camera, holding back tears, “…it wasn’t the first time.”
“He” refers to her partner at the time, the father of her children.
When Ms Murphy uploaded the video to her Facebook account, the video gained over 10 million views. She had no idea that sharing this piece of citizen journalism would change her life and the lives of hundreds of others.
Ms Murphy described to me the impacts of posting such a video: “My life has changed for the better since uploading my video. I now work full time in Domestic Violence which I feel I was meant to do. I speak to women every day about their experiences and support them through their journey. I am a happier and more confident woman since posting the video.”
Her partner had manipulated her into thinking that this behavior was acceptable, alongside of subjecting her to “mental torture” by calling her “paranoid” and “insecure” about his affair.
“Since my video went viral it has opened the door and began the conversation of abuse. People now talk about this more openly. We now even have the new coercive control bill that is now a criminal offence.”
On 2 January 2019, coercive control became a criminal offense in Ireland. Coercive control is psychological abuse in relationships that causes anxiety of physical violence. This takes over the victims life, resulting in a toxic pattern of humiliation and intimidation in fear of being subjected to physical or psychological abuse. It is included in the Domestic Violence Act, which explains the legal protections and help offered to domestic abuse victims.
Signs of coercive control can start out as simple as your partner making fun of issues they are aware you feel sensitive towards. Things can escalate quickly from this once confrontation occurs. Director of Women’s Aid Margaret Martin spoke on this on Today with Miriam O’Callaghan. She said: “I think it’s really interesting that this sort of abuse has been recognized because the thing about domestic violence is it is very much a pattern of different behaviors and very much repeated behaviors, and most crimes are about one single incident of assault, [like] burglary etc.”
Murphy continued to speak on the impacts of her video: “We have the government speaking about domestic violence more, more awareness campaigns. People have realized that domestic violence happens every day and that it is real. People now take domestic violence a bit more seriously as they now see the effects it has on families. I believe people are more open-minded now, and the conversation is more open.”
In November of this year, the lives of thousands of Irish women were impacted by a server on a US-based chat app called Discord. This was found to be hosting intimate images of Irish women and underage girls. These images were being shared amongst 500+ men across the country, with files as specific as the girls hair color, body type and ages.
When news of the leak arose, Megan J Renee, one of the people working in spreading awareness on this, has been actively using her Twitter and Instagram accounts to do so. A victim of image based sexual abuse, Megan has posted screenshots taken directly from the server of the titles of files. One section consists of “Teen 1/Teen 2/Teen 3/Teen 4”. Another states “6.23 TB folder”, containing 143,573 files. One was titled “16yo.”
The assumption online was that these girls deserved to be protected. The assumption online was that these images being uploaded without their consent will have consequences for uploaders. The assumption online was that justice will be served. This is not the case.
There is no law protecting these girls unless there is proof that the images include under 18’s.
That week, the people of Ireland pulled together online in order to help those working in raising awareness. A petition started by Megan on Change.org 5 months beforehand circulated to “Make revenge porn a criminal offense in Ireland.” At time of writing, this petition has 75,231 signatures. Written by Megan, the petition’s description states:
“Many women in Ireland are constantly targeted and disproportionately affected by this resulting in severe repercussions, leading in some cases to suicide. Girls affected by image-based sexual abuse are often also victims of severe cyber-bullying and job losses because of this.“
“I am publicly asking the Irish government for the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill be signed into Irish law including that those guilty be added to the sex offenders register and face a criminal conviction which could see those convicted jailed for up to 7 years.”
People sharing their thoughts and experiences surrounding revenge porn was successful in the sense that bringing in a protection law was discussed through TDs. Despite this issue being brought before the Dail on multiple occasions, the Gardai have currently failed to implement due to them finding “no actaul complaint of image-based sexual abuse”.
We cannot stop fighting for these girls, and Megan has not stopped writing on social media about this since the rejection, urging people to continue reporting to the Gardai if their images have been included in the leak.
“We can’t take this lying down.”
The Murder of George Floyd – Enough is Enough
George Floyd was a 46 year old African-American father of five. He lived in Minneaplois, Minnesota. On May 25th, officers responded to a report of a “forgery in progress“, after Floyd bought a packet of cigarettes. It was believed he used a fake $20 bill.
While arresting him, officers pulled Floyd from his car, causing him to fall to the ground. He was handcuffed. Video evidence taken by a bystander shows Floyd losing consciousness as officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, and he was pronounced dead an hour later.
Police brutality against people of color has been seen before, but it was this video surfacing online that sparked a civil rights movement globally. The gruesomeness and obvious hatred shown within the video was something that people could no longer turn a blind eye to – it was time for change.
Floyd’s death led to protests with one message in common – Black Lives Matter. Cities in 50 countries held demonstrations. 93% of these protests in the US were peaceful. Some became violent. Police began to fail to differentiate between the two. Largely peaceful protests commenced throughout Belarus, and were shut down by police force. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said:
“People have the right to speak up and express dissent, even more in the context of elections, when democratic freedoms should be upheld, not suppressed.”
In the UK and US, video footage has surfaced of historical monuments with links to slavery being vandalized. Since Floyd’s death, 38 statues in the US have been destroyed or toppled, such as monuments of Don Juan de Onate, John Breckenridge Castleman and Edward Carmack.
George Floyd’s memorial fund has reached $2,355,320 out of an updated $2,500,000 goal, and has become the most donated GoFundMe page to exist. The money of this fund is to assist in providing mental and grief counseling for George Floyd’s youngest child Gianna, to help cover court proceedings costs, and to help the family in paying for their child’s education.
Society has become more attentive to racially insensitive people and shows. Public figures such as Keith Lemon have apologized for their use of “black face”, explaining how their intention of doing so was for comedic purposes and not to insult or offend anyone. Little Britain and Come Fly with Me, shows from eras of different humor, have been removed off Netflix.
How It All Comes Together
An observation I made was how emotionally impacted people are by citizen journalism as opposed to traditional journalism. This can be seen in my case studies I have chosen to explore – a global outcry occurred for all three situations, contrasting one another. From petitions being signed, to protests happening all around the world, to people having the courage to change their own lives forever, citizen journalism hits a nerve that traditional journalism fails to. The voice of the people knows no boundaries.
If you’ve made it this far, be sure to drop a follow on my twitter @abbiealwelljou1.
Big thanks to Emma Murphy for speaking to me on her experiences for this piece. You can catch her on her instagram @emma_murphy_fitness, or her twitter @enmmamurphy.