Does Violence Drive Citizen Journalism?

The mainstream media faced a storm of criticism recently after the shooting in Chapel Hill in North Carolina that took the lives of three Muslim students. The alleged killer has been identified as a 46-year-old man, Craig Stephen Hicks, who describes himself an an ‘atheist’.

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Photo Courtesy: Twitter, pictured Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.

But what really started a frenzy on social media was the amount of coverage dedicated to this story. The motive behind the murders has yet to be determined, but family members of the victims believe it was a hate crime geared toward their Muslim faith and religion. However, the suspect’s wife insists it was over a parking space dispute.

Either way, only a few media outlets, most of them local news stations, reported on the killings late into the night. Some critics on social media suggested the lack of coverage by the national media was based on race and religious reasons.

However, citizen journalists were logging onto Twitter and were breaking the story as the events were unfolding. In fact, the majority of people first learned about this story via social media. The hashtags #MuslimLivesMatter and #ChapelHillShooting emerged as people become furious over the amount of attention being devoted to this crime.

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But as the hashtags continued to gain popularity, that’s when the mainstream media began to catch on. #MuslimLivesMatter has been tweeted more than 50,000 times since Tuesday, and #ChapelHillShooting has been tweeted nearly 600,000 times.

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This goes to show that hashtags matter and citizen journalists can voice their concerns and see change. Without the uproar on social media, this story probably would have been considered an isolated incident or a lone wolf attack and would have been mainly covered by local news stations. But with the push to get these hashtags trending, it became a national story, just not as quickly as most had hoped.

So if the tables were turned and the shooter would have been Muslim, would the story have gained more attention? Who knows, maybe so. But as a journalist, it’s part of the job to decided which stories are newsworthy, along with taking caution. Some stories go underreported and some are not reported at all.

So what do you guys think? Was the media wrong in not providing enough initial coverage to the Chapel Hill shooting? Or is this just another attack against the mainstream media? Let me know your thoughts!


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