Alternative media is quickly becoming the primary source for news worldwide, and thus an annexation of the Fourth Estate. Americans and citizens of other developed countries view “mainstream media” as very different from how citizens of the many under-developed countries view westernized mainstream media. Americans typically cling to every word broadcast on the network evening news, yet these same words draw ire and rebuke from underdeveloped countries as capitalist propaganda. However, even Americans, and westerners on a whole, are slowly shifting to questioning the verity of information gleaned from mainstream media and turning to alternative sources of information such as the Internet, social media, and yes, even Arab media for news. Mainstream media is becoming more and more commonly referred to as “corporate media,” (Zinn). The biggest problem in America may be a simple human fallacy of self-awareness. Americans view themselves as the knights in shining armor on a crusade to save a world that is unable to fend for itself, a view mainstream media strongly supports. In reality, it boils down to cultural relativism where Americans honestly believe their flavor of democracy is the best form, and their way of achieving such is the only way (i.e., Iraq). This worldview is not only protected by how mainstream media covers terrorist events, but is actually expanded. As stated by Harold Zinn: "The media are a pitiful lot. They don't give us any history, they don't give us any analysis, they don't tell us anything. They don't raise the most basic questions..." (The World Traveler).
It is this exact lack of self-awareness that frustrates terror groups into action against the countries like the United States, whose presence they view as dangerous, and furthered by the “skillful use of media [which] has also created misconceptions about how terrorism works,” (Seib and Janbek, preface, p.x).The emerging trend is that since mainstream media has evolved into more infotainment than objective news (Nacos), alternative news sources are booming even given the fact that there is comparabely less profit (Olmstead, Mitchell and Rosenstiel). Companies one would have never imagined having an interest in news, such as Yahoo, are now using a broad Internet base to reach untolled millions (Helft). It is little wonder that on-line social media has also emerged as not only a source of news for millions in the world, but as a news gathering tool where “37% have contributed to news creation, commented on news or shared it via social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter,” (Schroeder). This interactive approach to gathering and reporting news via the Internet is what has allowed Al Jazeera English to gain a hefty global market share with its “Your Media” contribution page that allows anyone in the world with Internet to have participative media access (Al Jazeera English). One might reasonably ask if open media access will reduce future terrorist acts since getting their message out seems to be a motivating factor.
Other advantages of the trend toward alternative news sources are very profound. The masses are now getting the perspective of the actual people in and around events in distant areas of the world that historically were only gained through the networks and their reporters' interpertations and biases. The current openess of alternative media provides rich insight into the context of foriegn cultures and gives the public a realistic look into the environments from which political groups arise within these cultures.The disadvantages to alternative media are both obvious and obscure. The obvious disadvantage is that anyone can log onto a social media outlet or Al Jazeera’s “Your Media” and put out any type of twisted information they choose and there is little time for edits before the message goes viral or gets locked into the ethereal world of the web. Terror groups are well known for using this facet to their advantage in recruiting and inciting unrest (Anwar Awlaki, who was very proficient at internet recruiting, is a clear example). Beyond terror groups, the recent successes of the Arab Spring turned largely upon the Fourth Estates’ annexation of alternative media where social network sites were ostensibly used to organize the ousting of oppresive regimes.
The not so obvious disadvantges, as Zinn points out, are the subtle messages of propaganda all sides use that confuse the real issues at hand. The recent political developments in Egypt evidence this perspective. Following the 2011 Egyptian revolution and fall of Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was legalized by and through propaganda (Yezdani, 2011). The Brotherhood supported the constitutional referendum in March which was also supported by the Egyptian army and opposed by Egyptian liberals (El Rashidi, 2011). But then in April 2011 the Brotherhood launched a new party called the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which has fairly well taken over an emerging governent (Gahnnam, 2011). According to the Anti-Defamation League, several former Brotherhood officials from the organization's 15-member Guidance Council have assumed key roles within the new party, and have used their positions in the FJP to reiterate the Brotherhood's long-standing hostility toward Zionism and support for terrorist organizations that serve as obstacles to peace and stability in the Middle East (2011). All of these developments were made possible and then furthered through the opening provided by the initial use of social networking technology (alternative media).
Nacos (2007) explains that the growth in alternative media as a news source has been exploited by terror groups for many years, but today we see how American politicians have developed campaigns on Facebook and Twitter as well. From a perusal of the alternative media campaigns in this election year can one reasonably shift through the rhetoric and propaganda and understand the underlying agendas, or is the voting public in a democracy to be taken in as the Egyptians were? We have experienced mainstream media failure to call attention to this and similar phenomena in agenda setting arguably out of the fear for a revenue loss as viewers may well go to that alternative source for future news. Regardless of anyone’s fears, alternative media is the nascent news source in our growing world of technology, and the Fourth Estate has indeed annexed a valuable resource.
U.S. Politics facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/uspolitics
REFERENCES Al Jazeera English. (n.d.). Your Media: Submit Your Contribution. Retrieved October 29, 2011, from Al Jazeera English: http://yourmedia.aljazeera.net/
Anti-Defamation League (2011). Brotherhood of Hate: Muslim Brotherhood's Hatred for Jews and Israel Flourishes in "New" Egypt. Accessed January 3, 2011 from: http://www.adl.org/main_International_Affairs/muslim_brotherhood.htm
El Rashidi, Yasmine, "Egypt: The Victorious Islamists", New York Review of Books, July 14, 2011
Ghannam, Angy (December 28, 2011) Islamists in Egypt's tourist spots win surprise support. BBC News. Accessed January 3, 2011 from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16348229
Helft, M. (2010, March 30). With Hirings, Yahoo Steps Up Its News Coverage. The New York Times .
Yezdani, Ipek (2011).'shariah in Egypt is enough for us.' Muslim Brotherhood leader say. Hürriyet Daily News. Accessed January 3, 2011 from: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=8220shari8217a-law-in-egypt-is-enough-for-us8221-tells-a-muslim-brotherhood-leader-2011-05-23
Nacos, B. (2007). Mass-Mediated Terrorism: the Central Role of the Media in Terrorism and Counterterrorism (2nd ed.). New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
Olmstead, K., Mitchell, A., & Rosenstiel, T. (2011). Online: Key Questions Facing Digital News . Retrieved October 29, 2011, from Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism; the State of the News Media 2011: http://stateofthemedia.org/2011/online-essay/
Schroeder, S. (2010, March 01). Social Networks Play a Major Role in How We Get News [Stats]. Retrieved October 29, 2011, from Mashable Social Media: http://mashable.com/2010/03/01/social-networks-source-news/
Seib, P., & Janbek, D. (2011). Global Terrorism and New Media. New York: Routledge.
Zinn, H. (n.d.). Third World Traveler. Retrieved October 29, 2011, from http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/