Colombia’s Digital Mainstream vs Alternative Media
During Colombia’s national strike in 2021, the hard reality of power imbalance was once again brought to light. It has been left to Colombian working-class associations and the high class and politicians in the chamber of representatives to discuss issues of economic and political importance, while digital activism is suppressed and the population is being misinformed.
Hence, it is necessary to shed light on the moral compromise media is placed and involved in contrast to the current political-economic situation of the country, and how accurate the researcher is able to gain from how much information is available to them to investigate alternative media, along with mainstream media and other sources of information.
Digital activism and online alterity
Discussions have always revolved around the amount of control political parties have over the media. Introducing social media has made digital activism a necessity for the new generation, which depends on these platforms to voice their concerns and opinions on the handling of the laws and the government’s actions in the past 10 years.
Moreover, with the advent of digital activism and satire, the Colombian people have been able to express their opinion of the current government and the support and development they provide the most vulnerable population, which can be considered most of the majority of the Colombian people, both inside and outside of the country.
In countries such as China, we have seen that the government imposes some restrictions and how power imbalance prevents external research or activism with valid data to take place. As for Colombia, since April 2021, the country has been involved in a brutal social outbreak against a conservative government that has prevented them from using social media to search for similar users with similar ideals and not be lost in the current government’s ideologies.
Within 14 days of the protests, citizens began noticing that their digital landscape (Clark-Parsons & Lingel, 2020) on social media was not functioning properly, with some posts being deleted, filled with bot-made comments or their profiles being deleted completely.
While this has encouraged citizens (not only locals but also expatriates citizens) to speak out and make use of platforms to not be silenced voices anymore (Jackson & Foucault Welles in Clark-Parsons and Lingel, 2020), the objectivity of social media and its use to generate discourse on the topic reveals a lack of an ethical perspective.
Therefore, finding valid information on this specific topic leads researchers to the notion echoed in Clark-Parsons and Lingen’s article on online alterity, which refers to “the challenges of reciprocity, representation, and unequal power dynamics” (2020). Whereas if an expatriate citizen tries to engage in this cause of digital activism, the information obtained through the unbalance of power and separation of digital activists and media (Pérez in “La Oreja Roja”, 2019), prevents an accurate representation of the current situation in their homeland.
Power imbalance and misinformation
It is important to encounter willingness in the participants for external research (Clark-Parsons & Lingen, 2020) and to understand Colombia’s political climate, where a very conservative party is in power. By attempting to study marginalized communities, like those mentioned earlier, we see two main channels of information from which the citizens and international public get information about the current political affairs in the country.
On the one side, we have the mainstream media, including newspapers and radio, who are sponsored by private owners and the government itself. On the other hand, we have public opinion sites, such as La Oreja Roja (the red ear, common saying when someone is talking about you) (Figure 2), a website consisting of a summary of opinions from a number of citizens as a less curated form of news and information without fear of punishment or sanction from the government (Garavito in “La Oreja Roja”, 2016).
It is at this point that we see an introduction to two concepts of media discussed by Atton (2002) and Lievrouw (2011), the first of which is alternative media, and the second is mainstream media. Research from an external perspective reveals that mainstream media denies events that are occurring and misinform, while individuals, affected by strikes, report on the issue with unedited, raw, and radical media (Clark-Parsons & Lingen, 2020).
Thus, not only are these multiple channels of information are available without confirmation of its sources and content, but more information is being restricted to external countries because of geolocation restrictions, which not only produce an inability to participate and have civil engagement with this digital activism as an individual but as a foreign researcher makes it impossible to “receive objective information and set a critical stance ”in the subject you are working on (Clark-Parsons & Lingen, 2020).
The government’s interruption of digital activism limits the ability to conduct research and participate from abroad due to blackouts of the internet and social media combined with fake news provided by mainstream media. Being an outsider in a conflict allows one to have an objective viewpoint, yet it is difficult to know what is true.
Therefore, as researchers, how do we determine the validity of all these alternative sources of information and the validity of data in this area on social media? Radicalism in the media, especially in countries with more limited laws for free media, has made the era of misinformation bigger and has “generated more discourse on important topics that need to be discussed” (Barrios in “La Oreja Roja”, 2021).
Clark-Parsons, Rosemary, and Jessa Lingel. 2020. “Margins as Methods, Margins as Ethics: A Feminist Framework for Studying Online Alterity.” Social Media + Society 6 (1): 2056305120913994. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305120913994.
“News Cultures and New Social Movements: Radical Journalism and the Mainstream Media: Journalism Studies: Vol 3, No 4.” n.d. Accessed October 1, 2021. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1461670022000019209.
James J. Brittain. 2010. Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia : The Origin and Direction of the FARC-EP. London: Pluto Press. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xww&AN=329634&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
“Libertad de Expresión En Redes, Lo Peligroso de Ponerle Límites.” [Freedom of Expression in Social Media, The Danger of Setting Limits] n.d. Laorejaroja (blog). Accessed September 28, 2021. https://www.laorejaroja.com/libertad-de-expresion-en-redes-lo-peligroso-de-ponerle-limites/.
“Las Redes Sociales y La Batalla Contra La Desinformación.” [Social Media and the Battle Against Misinformation] n.d. Laorejaroja (blog). Accessed October 1, 2021. https://www.laorejaroja.com/las-redes-sociales-y-la-batalla-contra-la-desinformacion/.
“Fake News, Temor y Manipulación: Así Es La Campaña de Comunicación Contra El Paro.” [Fake News, Terror and Manipulation: This is the Campaign of Communication Against the national Strike] n.d. Laorejaroja (blog). Accessed October 3, 2021. https://www.laorejaroja.com/fake-news-temor-y-manipulacion-asi-es-la-campana-de-comunicacion-contra-el-paro/.
Hensby, Alexander. n.d. “Alternative and Activist New Media by Leah A. Lievrouw.” Accessed October 1, 2021. https://www.academia.edu/12461758/Alternative_and_Activist_New_Media_by_Leah_A_Lievrouw.