A new breed of citizen journalist has emerged in Belarus, and dramatic first-hand accounts of the government’s post-election crackdown are being seen and heard because of a special Voice of America effort to harness the growing power of social media.
Visits to the VOA Russian Service website rose dramatically in the aftermath of Sunday’s controversial election and the government’s suppression of dissent. More than 140,000 visits were recorded at the VOA site (http://www.voanews.com/russian/news/), which is posting eyewitness reports on a special “crowdsourcing map.”
The citizen journalist reports, received through email and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, are carefully screened and verified by VOA journalists, who have sifted through thousands since last Friday.
VOA Director Danforth Austin says the Russian Service’s carefully planned use of “crowdsourcing” is a “textbook example of how citizen journalists can help VOA provide accurate first-hand coverage of an event and complement the work of our journalists in the field.” By using new media in a thoughtful way, Austin says, “We have been able to engage in a conversation with our audience and tell the world what they are saying and experiencing.”
VOA Russian Service coverage of the Belarus election also included a dramatic interview with presidential candidate Andrey Sannikov, who was arrested and badly beaten. He and 17 other prominent Belarusian opposition leaders have been accused of inciting mass riots and face the possibility of long prison terms. No media has had access to Sannikov since his arrest.
VOA Russian Service editors say that in addition to an increase in traffic to the website, the use of social media platforms and “crowdsourcing” has also triggered an unprecedented number of references to VOA Russian content on influential Russian and Belarusian websites.