Media and journalism issues

Elon Musk, citizen journalists, and what he needs to know

Gemma B. Mendoza

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Elon Musk, citizen journalists, and what he needs to know
To serve public interest, journalists need more than a blue check and a platform

Soon after he finally completed his purchase of Twitter, billionaire Elon Musk went on a tweeting frenzy about Twitter blue, which he claims is a way to “democratize journalism and empower the voice of the people.” 

Ending Twitter’s “lords and peasants system” approach and making the blue check mark available to everybody (everybody who can pay $8 monthly), Musk said, was meant to “elevate citizen journalists.” Then he warned that as his platform pursues this goal, “media elite will try everything to stop that from happening.”

It’s like Musk suddenly woke up and thought he found something new. But he’s late to the party. Citizen journalism has been around for decades – since the time when platforms like Blogspot and WordPress were still the new kids on the block. Facebook has also been moving towards providing support for individual content creators and journalists, independent of newsrooms and media groups. Recently, Facebook rolled out professional mode for profiles, which is marketed as a way for professionals to make money off their content. Initially made available in the US, this just rolled out to the Philippines.

Musk does not know what he is talking about. For Musk to say that the charging for blue checks would “democratize journalism” shows his surface knowledge of what journalists do, which, as articulated by the American Press Institute, is “to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.”

What Musk needs to know

What will sustain journalism? Certainly not Big Tech.

Let’s face it, platforms have never delivered enough revenue for professional journalists (to distinguish them from vloggers) or newsrooms. For one to earn a decent income on platforms such as Facebook Professional Mode or Twitter Blue, one needs a level of engagement that takes journalists away from their basic tasks of gathering and writing stories.

What will democratize journalism? Certainly not the divide and rule method that technocrats like Musk are advocating. Not fragmenting journalists, or isolating them.

It’s communities and collaborations. 

This is particularly true in crucial moments when journalists expose and offend power through their stories. At the end of the day, the powerful do not want to be called out for being corrupt, for being abusive, for lying. 

Support systems enable journalists to stand their ground and to keep reporting on uncomfortable truths and facts that the public needs to know so they can make informed decisions. 

Newsrooms and media groups, so derided in Mr. Musks’ posts, make sure this happens by taking care of the company bottomline. Yes, even freelancers rely on newsrooms and media groups to pay them for content. 

The newsroom remains the most sustainable support system for journalists. 

Beyond newsrooms

But given today’s complex problems, the newsroom has ceased to be an adequate support system. When you’re up against powerful individuals who have access to the might, funding, and other resources of the state, even individual newsrooms and media groups do not stand a chance of going at it on their own. In the Philippines, under the brunt of a powerful authoritarian government backed by disinformation networks, a broadcast giant lost its franchise and continues to disintegrate before our very eyes. 

In reality, media conglomerates buckle when the bottomline and business continuity are affected. But this is precisely the point that Musk does not get: Would individual citizen journalists, isolated and alone, fare any better? 

Let me share what we learned working in #FactsFirstPH

Anticipating a rise in disinformation in cyberspace in the lead up to the 2022 Philippine elections, 143 groups participated in this collaborative effort, including the following newsrooms: ABS-CBN News, Altermidya, Baguio Chronicle, Daily Guardian, Interaksyon, Mindanao Gold Star, News5 Digital, OneNewsPH, PressOne, Rappler, and Davao Today. 

Beyond the news organizations, #FactsFirstPH also mobilized academics, civil society groups, church groups, schools, legal and human rights groups: a whole-of-society approach where democratic forces are working together to create an environment that would allow independent, critical journalism, and facts to flourish. 

Together, this collaboration ramped up efforts to fight disinformation by fostering collaboration between newsrooms. It extended and diversified the reach of fact checks by producing derivative translations and creative executions targeting different platforms, niche audiences, and communities. It created a mesh distribution network on social media that amplified facts and fact-checking. 

#FactsFirstPH also facilitated collaboration and solidarity among newsrooms by initiating secure lines of communications through which they could collectively discuss and address common challenges and threats. 

For instance, these channels were used to organize responses against the rise in intense DDoS attacks against newsrooms. Rappler worked with experts from  Sweden-based digital forensics nonprofit Qurium Media in order to investigate and track down actors behind the attacks. #FactsFirstPH partner newsrooms also published stories to draw awareness of these attacks. The colab also collectively issued statements calling for action against the attacks

In newsrooms facing attacks and other challenges, the collaboration also served both as a legal and a psychological support system. In one session facilitated by Meedan, for instance, fact-checking partners collectively discussed how online attacks affected them emotionally. The legal layer, in turn, provided legal consultation service to help newsrooms address concerns related with their fact-checking work.

This network also supported multidisciplinary research to expose disinformation narratives and networks and initiated efforts to end impunity for abusive actors online by facilitating collaboration between lawyers, journalists, and civil rights groups.

With or without Musk’s blue checks, these collaborative projects will continue as safeguards against the tyranny of platforms. Courage on.  –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI
Person, Human, Sleeve


Gemma B. Mendoza

Gemma Mendoza leads Rappler’s multi-pronged efforts to address disinformation in digital media, harnessing big data research, fact-checking, and community workshops. As one of Rappler's pioneers who launched its Facebook page Move.PH in 2011, Gemma initiated strategic projects that connect journalism and data with citizen action, particularly in relation to elections, disasters, and other social concerns.