Is Snapchat the new journalism?

Locals have become improvised reporters and the smartphone is the newspaper.

Snapchat logo. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Snapchat logo.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
This week Snapchat, a photo and video messaging smartphone app, took over both Tel Aviv and the West Bank.
For those not familiar with Snapchat, the application allows users to send photos and videos via the Internet that are automatically deleted approximately 15 seconds after being opened by the recipients. When Snapchat became popular for the wrong reasons (we can easily imagine millions of teenagers interpreting the purpose of the app as being a “safe” sexting tool), a new feature was introduced: Snapchat Live. Every day users from a selected place can show the entire world the wonders of their city and lifestyle through a short, amateur documentary composed entirely of homemade videos.
We’ve seen the people of Riyadh swimming with lions, the Vancouver skyline and live footage from the most recent MET Gala in New York.
On July 7, the app took over Israel. At first, the takeover sparked a series of hateful tweets and comments by angered Snapchat users who asked, “Are you going to show what’s on the other side of the wall?” No answer came from Snapchat headquarters in the Silicon Valley. One day later, however, the West Bank was announced to be live on the video messaging app.
It seems that most people don’t understand the meaning of this event and, at large, the magnitude of this phenomenon.
Snapchat Live is not just any entertainment service; it is more accurately a new tool which threatens to change the nature of journalism forever.
With the rise of Twitter and Snapchat, locals have become improvised reporters, and smartphones have become our newspapers.
Most people who have been giving their opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without ever visiting the region are now able to see a two-minute documentary shot by the people who actually live there – not by some foreign reporter or news analyst.
Do you see the potential? The advantages? The risks? Probably not. Technology does not necessarily respond to our needs. Scholars of technological determinism have taught us that technology often shapes our needs.
By picking one theme each day – an event, a city, or in the future even a region affected by a terrorist attack or war – Snapchat allows the local users to take full control of the issue and show what’s going on in the selected area through a series of short videos.
Such a practice can be empowering, as well as biased.
Millions of teenagers who use Snapchat on a daily basis and yet do not follow the news can use this new tool as a great learning lesson. Or, instead, they can misinterpret what they see and formulate their opinion based on two minutes of footage that certainly cannot show the whole picture.
To all the journalists out there who still have not caught up to our technological age and still don’t have a Twitter and a Snapchat account: either get one now or retire. You’re not part of the revolution.
The author, 21, is a student at Bar-Ilan University and works as a freelance writer. His works have been published in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and Wired Italy.