Never Underestimate the Power of Social Media

We’ve all seen the wave effect social media can cause when it comes to spreading breaking news stories such as Michael Jackson’s death and the Samoan tsunami.

But social media is also empowering regular citizens with the ability to break news stories as they take place or spread the word about events they consider to be newsworthy. The phenomenon is birthing a new wave of Citizen Journalism and it’s one of the major reasons news agencies are performing backflips trying to stay relevant.

A perfect example of online citizen journalism occurred in the UK this week, when blogger Jonathan MacDonald witnessed a London rail guard verbally abuse and physically intimidate an elderly passenger whose arm had become stuck in a train door. Midway through the incident, Jonathan had the foresight to whip out his video camera and film the exchange, during which the Transport for London (TFL) employee hurled insults at the passenger, swore loudly at him and threatened to “sling him under a train”.

When Jonathan expressed his distaste to another train guard and suggested that the abusive staffer would lose his job over it, she laughed at him. As a result, he felt compelled to blog the experience and tell as many people as possible as he believed the passenger was being bullied and an injustice had been done.

As well as blogging and tweeting about it, Jonathan posted the video on YouTube, filed an official complaint with TFL about the incident and sent emails to several members of the London press. Social media did the rest.

Outraged viewers of the video joined forces to spread the word, with Twitter users pushing the hashtag #TFL into the trending topics list. Bloggers linked to Jonathan’s post, shared the link on Facebook, MySpace and other social media networks. Within 24 hours the story made headlines on Sky, BBC, LBC, ITN and on the front page of the Evening Standard and the Telegraph. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson became involved and at the time of this posting, Jonathan’s video has had nearly 145,000 views on YouTube.

As a result of Jonathan’s actions, the TFL employee has been suspended and is now the subject of an internal investigation.

The moral of this story? Never underestimate the power of social media.

From Jonathan’s blog:

“All I did was see something that shouldn’t be tolerated and used the ammunition we have in our hands – video/blogs/network… the main reason this story has flown is due to what happened on camera. We must remember that. It’s not me. I didn’t ‘invent the story’. I just blogged, like I do, and the Twitterverse powered the rest... The conversation may continue for a while and I hope that more citizens become aware of the power they already have to stop hatred, abuse and fear.”

Hats off to you Jonathan.

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