Kyrgyzstan: Social Media Create and Fight Information Overload

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Elena Skochilo: from journalist 2.0 to editor 2.0.

Few hours after the riots in Bishkek started, I saw that my friend from Kyrgyzstan is on Skype.  I asked if she is OK.

“I couldn’t leave the center of Bishkek, so I am at my friend's house in the center of Bishkek,” she said. “I can hear shooting and explosions. I can see a lot of smoke. The city is on fire. The crowd already started to loot stores. But if you want to know what’s going on, you should check this link.”

She gave my a link to a blog  Morrire by a Kyrgyz journalist Elena Skochilo (also former GVO author), who currently lives in the U.S.  The blog provided an updated feed of recent news from Bishkek that was based on monitoring of traditional and social media. To some extent, it was a paradox. A person in Bishkek was getting information about disturbing events in the city through a blog of a person from Tennessee who monitors the info on Kyrgyzstan.

The Kyrgyz events were widely covered by social media as described it the recent post [ENG] by Alexey Sidorenko. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people from Bishkek posted numerous updates on Twitter (under #freekg hashtag), Livejournal, the local blogging platform, Diesel forum and other online outlets. Some events were covered live via web cameras placed at the central square of the city. In addition to that, the traditional media reports were widely reposted and distributed online.

Unlike in other situations when social media overcame the lack of information, the coverage of events in Kyrgyzstan caused to information overload and even chaos. A person who wanted to know what was going on in Bishkek could easily find herself drowning in the middle of the ocean of information. It was difficult, for instance, to differentiate the information originated in traditional media from the one born in social media platforms. Original evidences and reposting mixed with facts, rumors and pure speculations. Some of the local news Web sites were blocked for certain periods of time and that made it harder to check the original source of information.

The role of the local forum, Diesel [RUS] in this case, is very important. The question why forums are more valuable source of information than blogosphere was discussed in this GV article [ENG] about the night club fire tragedy in Perm. Twitter is also more useful since it creates one feed of information through heshtag and its easier to follow.

In this situation of information overload, a major role has been played by bloggers-aggregators. The aggregators find the most interesting and impressive content and post it on their blogs. It is not a new phenomenon. Mostly, it’s a visual content that includes shocking pictures and video. The same thing happened this time. Popular Russian bloggers Drugoi and Abstract2001, for example, provided the “selected” pictures and videos (e.g. here and here). The visual content certainly raises emotions and shows the degree of tragedy. Moreover, posting this content became a major platform for discussion of events. But it still doesn’t present any consistent picture of what’s happening. Not only a common information consumer, but also journalists can just lose themselves in the ocean of information.

The nature of the new information environment not only creates new challenges, but also provides new opportunities. The events in Bishkek showed emergence of the new social media institute – editors 2.0. Those are bloggers focusing on monitoring various sources of information including traditional and social media and producing consistent and relatively credible information picture of the events. This people should not necessarily be at the place of the events. They can be far away from the event in question and  still have an opportunity to get a global picture. But they have to be very familiar with the area of event to have a capabilities to evaluate and check information, and engage it’s own sources if necessary. In addition they have to have a high online reputation to be considered as a credible source information.

We have seen few blog-based initiatives that were focused on monitoring and creating a consistent picture of events.  A blogger adam-kesher posted [RUS] the most interesting Tweets. A blogger Lord-fame who was located in Kazakhstan made a comprehensive effort [RUS] to cover the event in Bishkek based on a big variety of source.

However, the most impressive job was done by a blogger Morrire, a Kyrgyz journalist Elena Skochilo [ENG] who currently studies in Tennessee, United States. Skochilo is a well-know blogger and photographer. Her blog was recognized as the best blog of 2005 because to her coverage of the “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan. This time, despite the fact that she was very far from the area of event, she still was that major source of information, not only for bloggers but also for many traditional media outlets. For instance, some information on major Russian news portal was based on links from her blog. Some foreign reporters also followed her blog updates. A foreign desk editor of the Israeli Russian language channel “Israel Plus” Dmitry Dubov wrote [RUS]:

Собственно, у нее я и брал всю необходимую инфу, плюсь добрал парой телефонных звонков в Бишкек, для драммы. Все. Картина дня сложилась.

Actually, I took all the necessary information from her. I just used addition few calls to Bishkek to make coverage more dramatic That’s it. The picture of the events was ready.

“My duty is to be a filter,” Skochilo said in an interview to GV. “I should sift out truth from rumors and present the most precise and confirmed information.” The Morrire blog served as a missing chain between  social media content and information consumers. It addressed the major problem of social media, which is not the lack of first-hand information, but lack of editors who perform the task of data mining. It provided informational product, a consistent picture, that was based on various sources of information including social and traditional media. Skochilo explained to GV how she did it:

Я отслеживаю все возможные источники информации, где могут быть хоть какие-то существенные данные. СМИ, форумы, блоги. В этот раз очень помог закрытый чат в Skype, где представители НПО и журналисты обменивались информацией в реальном режиме времени. Решать вопрос о размещении информации всегда сложно, полагаюсь на интуицию…данные должны быть подтверждены несколько раз – это основное правило. И всегда думаю о том, как эти данные могутповлиять на ситуацию в обществе…

I follow all possible sources of information that can contain at least some substantial data. Media, forums, blogs. This time a closed chat in Skype where representatives on NGO and reporters exchanged the information in real time really helped me. It is always difficult to resolve the issue of posting the information… I follow my intuition. The information should be confirmed several times. It is my main rule. I always think of how this information can influence on the situation in society.

The Morrire blog is an example of evolution from a journalist 2.0 to editor 2.0.  Five years ago, during the “Tulip Revolution,” Morrire was a source of first- hand content. It provided important of information but served only as a part of puzzle of the events. This time, the  Morrire’s blog focused on creating the entire picture.  Elena Skochilo told GV how she felt about the fact that this time she was far from the places where the events took place.

В моем отсутствии есть плюсы и минусы. В 2005 году я была очевидцем и освещение событий во многом было эмоциональным. Сейчас же все, что я могу сделать, это беспристрастно пропускать через себя весь этот безумно огромный поток информации и выдавать еще более точные и оперативные данные, чем в 2005 году. Минус в том, что конечно же, мне хочется быть в Кыргызстане и быть очевидцем и составить свое личное мнение о происходящем. Мне тяжело дается разница во времени и я сейчас не отличаю, где день а где ночь и какой сегодня день недели. Очень неприятное ощущение и недостаток сна сильно сказывается.

There are pluses and minuses about my being far away. I was a witness of the events in 2005 and my news coverage was emotional in many ways. What I can do this time is to objectively filter all that enormously big flood of information and publish even more precise and quick data then in 2005. The disadvantage, of course, is that I want to be in Kyrgyzstan and be a witness and create my own opinion about the events. The time difference is difficult for me and now I don't even distinguish between night and day and the day of the week. It is very unpleasant feeling and I can feel the lack of sleep.

If in the past traditional media were occasionally using information from social media, this time the social media took a patronage over social and traditional media together. The case of Kyrgyzstan media coverage shows that social media create not only a new generation of journalists but also a new generation of editors. To some extent, it means that social media become more mature and independent in its ability to fulfill journalistic duties.


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