A few days ago we had Tory Starr, a social media strategist and facilitator for national programming at WGBH, come in to talk to our class about social media’s impact on the journalism industry today. She covered several platforms of social media but focused on how each one should be used to the fullest. Generally, people see social media platforms for their most obvious uses – Instagram for uploading photographs of delectable foods and breathtaking views or Facebook for connecting with friends and keeping them posted on your latest adventures.
But social media can be used for so much more. Starr showed us how people are starting to think outside the box.
She mentioned a few stories, whose reporters did just that, and one in particular fascinated me, so I decided to read up on it.
Yusuf Omar, mobile editor for the Hindustan Times, took an app, which the average person uses to send comical selfies, and turned it into an outlet for people to share their darkest stories – the app was Snapchat.
On June 26th, Omar joined sexual assault survivors and their supporters as they conquered the Chamundi Hills of Mysore, during India’s first ‘Climb Against Sexual Abuse’. In order to cover the event, the reporter came up with an innovative and powerful method for the survivors to tell their stories comfortably. He used Snapchat’s filters to mask each individual’s face so they could record honest interviews.
In about 17 other countries, rape survivors are climbing mountains as a metaphor to overcome their mental and physical struggles. Using nothing but an iPhone 6 and a selfie-stick, Omar documented the stories of some of the 50 people who climbed the Chamundi Hills, in an effort to speak out and continue inspiring others to do a climb of their own.
During his one-on-one interviews, Omar had each interviewee choose the filter they wanted to use to hide their faces.
“Recording with a mask gave them the sense of legitimacy and security that I wasn’t going to be able to show their face, as opposed to trusting a journalist saying ‘yes, we will blur you afterwards’, so they felt empowered and in control of the narrative,” Omar told Journalism.co.uk.
With the ability to flip the camera, Omar even allowed interviewees to take the phone and tell their stories in solitude. The could choose their filter and then record themselves while looking at their disguised faces, and no one would ever know it was them.
“They weren’t telling their story to me or a camera, they were just looking at themselves in a phone and recalling their experiences – and there was something so personal and sincere about that.”
Omar tapped into a whole new realm of journalism. He transformed the typical teen’s social media app into a journalistic tool. Stories that have needed to be told for years, have now surfaced because he thought of using the latest technology. It’s likely that this will catch on as a technique for obtaining anonymity.
Omar, at least, plans to continue using his newfound tool to help sexual abuse survivors speak up in India in the future. But for now, he is set to take his phone and selfie-stick up Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro, as a new group gathers to Climb Against Sexual Abuse in December.