Alyssa Newcomb had just celebrated her one-year anniversary as a Tech reporter at NBC News in San Francisco when the Charlottesville protests began.
“There were questions about who was marching in Charlottesville. It felt as though people were so shocked to see this happening in 2017,” Newcomb said.
In Aug. of 2017, the Unite the Right rally took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists preached anti-Semitic and racist beliefs. Shouting “Jews will not replace us,” videos and photos of the rally circulated the Internet, horrifying viewers everywhere.
Newcomb, who spent 11 years as a tech and investigative reporter for ABC in New York City, did not attend the Charlottesville protests. She did however, rely on twitter to follow and report on the coverage, prompting her to publish a story that would show the world the power of user accountability.
Newcomb’s article mentioned Twitter user Logan Smith, known as @YesYoureracist, who called upon himself and his fellow twitter users to identify all the men pictured the photos from the rally. “These could be their neighbors, friends, relatives, so when people started being outed with the help of social media, it seemed like it was time for a story,” Newcomb said.
Beginning on Aug. 12, Logan tweeted, “If you recognize any of the Nazis marching in #Charlottesville, send me their names/profiles and I’ll make them famous #goodnightaltright.” Smith first, identified Cole White, an employee at Top Dog Restaurant in California who lost his job as a result of participating in the protests.
Soon, nearly all of the men pictured were identified, exposing them to their fellow peers, and holding them accountable for preaching hatred.
Without Logan Smith’s contribution on Twitter, many of the men who participated in the Charlottesville protests could have resumed their day-to-day lives with no consequence.
Social media exists and is here to stay. People need to remember that there is no such thing as anonymity,” Newcomb added.
“However, it can be helpful or harmful. We need to be careful with this and just remember that if someone tweeted it, it doesn’t mean it’s true. We still have a duty to do our do diligence,” she added.
Logan Smith’s outing of white supremacists isn’t the only instance of the user influencing journalism. In the recent #Me too movement, Twitter has become the central platform for the outing of high powered men in Hollywood who have been accused of sexual harassment and abuse allegations.
Women used twitter to share their experiences in dealing with sexual harassment and to expose the realities of abuse. It provided them a platform to tell their stories, and thus, has begun to transform journalistic reporting.
“The way outing changes journalism, is that it makes the whole process faster. It makes things happen faster, spread faster, get to the public eye faster,” a correspondent from NBC who wishes to remain anonymous, said.
As a reporter for the last four decades, this unnamed reporter has witnessed the older, traditional newsrooms of journalistic reporting, stacked with newspapers and Teleprompters, as well as the current digital age, where technology and social media have taken control.
“It provides people a way to go around us, above us, beside us. Public officials and others are able to get their message out without using the traditional means of a press release.”
“All matter of social media is that there are many more ways for many more people to say things, publicly and as a person out in the world you have to be more careful about what you do,” he added.
Because of social media, there is now a myriad of ways for people, especially journalists to get their information. With the availability of social media platforms, come more leads and more access to information than ever before.
“At some point it became more important to include peoples’ opinions on social media on something. It’s also the place for powerful people to get their message out faster than they would of a while ago. Social media has a profound influence in countries around the world especially things you may not be able to see.,” they added.
According to this journalist, instances such Arab Spring relied on social media to get their message out to the public. If it were not for twitter, it would of not had as much of an impact, nor would it have reached the other half of the world.
This phenomenon has changed the world and if anything showed people to be more skeptical of what they see.
“Now the demand is on us to produce more. I have social media accounts; I write more across platforms, you have to meet the audience where they are. There is a need to create more than 1 kind of story, the equipment is smaller, lighter, faster, so you broadcast from places live that you couldn’t years ago.”