Facebook Fetish...

Cheung Ka-man - Reporter, Apple Daily

[中文][Jul 2010 - The Journalist] Some reporters like to chat it up in coffee shops. Or shop the latest cameras. All part of their leisure life. Me? I love surfing...Facebook.

I’ve got “involved’’ with Facebook about two years. At the beginning, I used Facebook to communicate with friends. I also tried Twitter and Plurk, but I soon gave them up. They just swamped me with too much information until...like you would puke and drown.

Occasionally I’d surf the web for discussion forums where numerous topics can be found and found them to be good news sources. However I soon lost my patience reading every single reply. Facebook...it's something else altogether...an instant online messenger, information board with postings by friends or recommended by them at the same time. It's a good tool for someone as lazy as me.

When Facebook started to gain popularity, the photo albums became an important tool to collect the background information of persons in the news. For example, a reporter can search Facebook for the photos of accident victims and then use it for headline news the next day. It is the same as using photos posted on blogs or personal webs. In my opinion, the privacy protection of Facebook is the most detailed and complete one. You can set the degree of privacy protection, which part is accessible for everyone and which part is restricted to friends.

Apart from searching for others’ personal information, Facebook can be used for newspaper cuttings. My “friends” on Facebook usually share similar interests and concerns as me. When I go back to the office and plunge straight into Facebook, I quickly get a rough idea of what's important news-wise along with the discussions of the day after reading the links and articles my “friends” have posted.

Mobilising for Lo Wu Bridge

Facebook is a good way to make friends with young interviewees, too. It is easier to reach them by Facebook and I bet it will be faster than calling them on the phone. I joined the groups they formed out of curiosity but gradually realized the mobilising power of these groups. The most impressive mobilisation was the group that ‘cross Lo Wu Bridge’, which called upon group mates to make a petition to the Chinese officials in support of detained dissident Liu Xiaobo by walking across the Lo Wu bridge that linked Hong Kong and Shenzhen. I thought they were not that serious, but they proved me wrong. Eventually, more than twenty youngsters participated in the action and the mainland police crossed the border to enforce their law on the Hong Kong side so as to interrupt their action. It really took my breath away. 

Facebook is also good at disseminating information and, naturally, has become a convenient way for reporters to get news sources. In a time when anyone can be a reporter, civilians with cameras can easily upload what they have captured saw to the Facebook. As a result, photos of banners that carried ‘DAB successfully fights for…’ and Donald Tsang’s security guard suddenly becoming a “civilian” who received the leaflet of Act Now campaign were uploaded and became raw materials for the news.

Of course, it is the youngsters who make best use of Facebook. They do not actively call out the reporters before taking any action. For instance, when the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) confiscated the equipment of Radio FM 101, they called for support through Facebook. They did not issue any statement to the traditional media either. They only disseminated their views via Facebook. It worked!

As reporters, we have to check this information and gather reaction from concerned parties before using it as news story. Just like the way we did when we received information actively provided by readers or citizens.

Of course, finding news sources is not my objective in using Facebook. I use it because it suits my web surfing habit. It will be quite tiring if you use Facebook just to look for news sources. 

Concerns over Neutrality

Facebook serves lots of functions and it became most powerful because it provides a platform for users to exchange views. Once an article is posted up on the wall, others will leave messages, discuss, quote and gradually some preliminary ideas are formed. This in turn can be a base for the formation of an action group. However, it may become a “war zone” of opinion if views are too divided. The war of words during the Anti-Express Rail Link Campaign is a typical case at point.

It aroused concern about neutrality of reports related to views expressed on the Facebook. Some said, readers may, at the very least, challenge the neutrality of the report.

Frankly speaking, I do not believe that there is such a thing as absolutely objective news from the first day I studied journalism. What can be achieved is reporting objectively as much as possible and not let the personal views cloud the report. Therefore, given that the personal opinion of a reporter does not affect the content of the news, I see no harm done to professionalism if a reporter expresses his or her own views on Facebook.

Everyone has his or her own role to play. At home, I am my parent’s daughter. In the newsroom, I am a reporter. On Facebook, I am one of the numerous web users. It is normal for a web user to express his or her opinion. The reporter is not a judge and posting on Facebook should not be encumbered by too many restrictive rules. 

Reporters’ views as expressed on Facebook were extremely divided during the Anti-Express Rail Link Campaign. Lots of discussions and debates took place and I think it was a good chance for colleagues to debate. In my view, it was more open, freer than the debate between Donald Tsang and Audrey Eu. Most important of all, the debate did not affect the reporting then. 

If you doubt my word, listen to the radio reports filed by the reporter whose personal information was revealed after “sick” views against participants of the campaign were expressed in the Facebook.