Project Report By: Ala Subhi
Journalist and Media Researcher
News coverage of the revolt in Egypt in 2011 posed an exceptional challenge for journalists whose work was restricted by the Egyptian authorities ban on reporting from inside Egyptian territories as well as banning news organisation’s access to live newsgathering. The Egyptian media was characterised by a state-controlled media sector and private media outlets that had mostly fallen in line with the regime. Social media provided an essential barrier of content generated by Egyptian public and an important source for media outlets to secure coverage of the growing revolt. BBC news channels including its World Service branch BBC Arabic Television had employed user-generated content (UGC) during the days when media activities were restricted in Egypt. UGC helped in securing coverage of the revolution that ended up with a historical fall of regime that ruled since 1981.
When the Internet first became available to a large number of people in 1990s, it was often referred to as “information superhighway.” People were said to navigate from Web site to Web site the way a driver navigates from one place to another. Links from one Web site to another were described as being similar to streets connecting different locations. Today’s internet users aren’t just going from Web site to Web site and looking at what’s there. Instead, they are actively participating in the Web by creating their own sites or blogs, sharing video and audio files online helping shape the content of the sites they visit. (Popek, 2011: P4)
During an international telephone conversation with one of my friends back in 1995, I told him to keep in touch by email as it is cheaper than telephone calls, he replied by asking “what is the email?” Then, I only had my email for just few weeks prior to this conversation and since I joined that e-community, I had an assumption that everyone did the same. I still remember the number of newspapers and magazines to which I subscribed freely and which were, and still are, delivered regularly to my email account. I was a reader, a consumer and never thought that the Web will one day become an area where I will have my own space. I was just a new graduate with almost zero knowledge of internet technology and hence thinking of what will be next in this new virtual world was far beyond my cognitive limits. Today, I have a blog, personal accounts with Facebook, twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace, flickr, three personal emails and a work email. At work, I publish my reports online and at home I access almost everything online from my bank account to shopping for books, gifts or grocery.
The internet had changed the way with deal with everything around us and most importantly the way we receive and publish information. The volume of information online is becoming huge making it difficult to control every single message. Media organisations now have websites to secure their presence on the Web and with the continuous development of interactive and social media websites, organisations from all fields are trying to connect with their customers or audience through such websites. Social and interactive websites produced a new form of consumers who are partners to what is produced. Susan Gunelius argues that:
“As the social web has grown and tools like Twitter, blogs, Facebook and YouTube have allowed communications to flow faster and farther than ever before — inevitably causing the world to shrink and real-time to be the expectation — people have changed. Those changes affect most aspects of our daily lives, including our roles as individuals with buying power, and that’s a shift that businesses and their employees need to understand if they want to stay profitable in the future. In simplest terms, people have moved from being CONsumers to PROsumers with far more influence than ever before.” (Guneluis: 2010)
Media audiences are becoming prosumers too they are no longer watching television or listening to radio or reading newspapers without taking active part in the media product itself. Technology has further facilitated this even more as connecting with a media organisation no longer needs a letter or a phone call, but could be as direct as writing in the have your say or comment boxes online. Media now seek feedback and contribution from audience not only to attract them by making them part of the production process but audience contribution is now becoming a valuable source of information to media. Audience on the other hand can include people who actively advocate a specific cause and hence their contribution could serve their own interests. The emergence of social media facilitated contact between people of shared interests and between audience and media.
At the beginning of the Egyptian revolution Egyptian youth intensively used social media to organise themselves in campaigns of protests against the Mubarak’s rule. Despite that they triggered the all-out-revolution that forced the president to resign, yet the social media youth were not the only factor that inspired the masses of protestors who occupied Tahrir Square in central Cairo. The social media activities during the protests played an excellent communication role and helped in spreading the information, pictures and footage of needed to expose crackdown by authorities against protestors.
This research project aims to investigate the role played by social media in television coverage of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, specifically during a ban imposed on media in general and television in specific accompanied by a few days of mobile network and internet blackout to isolate the protest movement from outside world. In the course of preparing this report, I have consulted related academic and non-academic literature in various formats (books, articles and essays), spent a day with the BBC UGC Hub at BBC in White City monitoring the way they work, interviewed BBC UGC Hub editor Patricia Whitehorne by email, BBC Arabic Programme Producer Ahmad Sarey El-Din and London based Egyptian producer and activist Marwa Hassan.
Social media in Arab countries
Compared to the rest of the world, the number of social media users in Arab countries is not as huge. In its report on Arab social media published in March 2012, Dubai School of Government (DSG: 2012) estimates facebook users in Arab countries at “43 million” and twitter active users are estimated at “1,311,882 pointing to a rise from 652,333 in September 2011”. The report further says that “social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will continue to play a critical role in organizing social and civil movements in the Arab world, especially among the youth.” (DSG: 2012)
Writing about the role of social media in the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Simon Mainwaring argues that social media was “critical because it helped in spreading cognitive dissonance by connecting thought leaders and activists to ordinary citizens rapidly expanding the network of people who become willing to take action.” (Mainwaring: 2011) Despite that social media was among the tools used to trigger protests in Egypt; it could not be a major factor in the Egyptian revolution. While social media youth in major cities were tweeting and connecting through social media, other parts of Egypt such as Suez was witnessing fierce protests led by port labourers who were not social media savvy and were moved by their fear of jobs losses with government intention to privatise their companies. Mason points that protestors “were middle-aged men and their sons in orange overalls. Big-chested guys who’d had to fight for their jobs” (Mason, 2012:19). Furthermore while the protests started on 25 January 2011, the actual climax of the protests was reached on 28 January after Friday prayers. Boyd argues that “ideas spread more rapidly in densely connected social networks. So tools that increase the density of social connection are instrumental to the changes that spread.” (Boyd, 2011) In the case of the Egyptian revolution, it was the congregations at Friday prayers on 28 January which played this role of these connected social networks with preachers encouraging protestors to demonstrate against the regime. The role of social media though, I argue, was in disseminating information that otherwise was not accessible to domestic or international media either due to blackout or inaccessibility. By using twitter, YouTube and facebook, the youth managed to break the authority clampdown and promote their causes. They published online what was happening in Egypt during the first three days where the authorities banned media from reporting.
Qualitative methods were used in this research project and depended on observation interviews with three people who are identified as directly related to the objective of this research and who can provide in-depth information related to their knowledge on the topics discussed in this research. Literature on media, social media, user-generated content, activism and grass-root journalism were consulted to support the finding of the research. The research investigates the usefulness of user-generated content to television as a medium. Content generated by activists during the Egyptian revolution, triggered on 25 January 2011, forms the element of this study. The study then identifies how user-generated content was employed by BBC Arabic TV (BBC ATV), one of the BBC World Service multi-channels. BBC ATV was chosen for this research project for the following reasons:
1) BBC ATV is part of the BBC and follows the strict BBC editorial guidelines.
2) BBC ATV targets audience in the Arabic speaking countries who were concerned with the events in Egypt during the revolt due to the cultural and linguistic proximity and similarities of the socio-political environment in these countries, so the news value of the Egyptian revolt would have been of greater news value to the target audience.
3) BBC has an established unit that is devoted for UGC to provide material for the wider BBC news outlets that could not have been reached by its journalists or news agencies.
4) BBC has a history of involving audience in its output from letters to the editor, phone calls to radio call-in shows, to amateur footage of breaking news events.
Observing BBC UGC Hub
BBC is among the first media to use UGC in its work despite the strict editorial guidelines followed by its journalists which is not undermined while using UGC. BBC UGC Hub editor Patricia Whitehorne explains why the hub was launched
“The first big story where user generated content played a part was the Asian tsunami in 2004. We were getting emails and pictures from people caught up in events and these were used on air, primarily by the then, News 24. But it wasn’t until the London terror attacks in July 2005, when it was decided to fund a dedicated team, and it became known as the ugc hub. At the time of the 7/7 bombings, we received pictures and emails from people stranded on the underground, and also a picture of the bus that was bombed, with its roof blown off. The stories and images that we received gave a vivid account of what happened on 7/7. From then on, it became clear that user generated content had a part to play in News – particularly on breaking stories.” (Appendix 1)
The Hub has a small team of dedicated journalists who monitor the material (including pictures, videos, comments or eyewitness accounts) uploaded into BBC website during big or moving stories. The Hub’s journalists are also monitoring social media for information that could be of use to the BBC news operation. The material collected then goes through a rigorous process of authentication as well as legal and copyright approval. UGC Hub follows a process of noting down the internet source or link, date uploaded, duration of the video, content, picture included, and contextual details. The authentication process starts from contacting the users who posted the material online or claim to own it, if they are available. Further checking on the material involves consulting people who are familiar with the language of the videos or audio recording, location where the news happened who can give their say on the available material. Whitehorne highlights this procedure and says:
“You can’t just go to social media sites and lift material without doing extensive checks. Very often material is posted and reposted several times, so footage claiming to be of one event, could be quite old and of something entirely different. But if you are able to get through to the person who filmed the footage, by questioning them closely and using journalistic skills, you can determine how reliable the material is likely to be. You could do technical checks and try to ascertain how old video might be but in the end, the nature of the story means that ugc from the Arab Spring countries is unlikely to be totally reliable, and we should make that clear to the audience.” (Appendix 1)
After being cleared for broadcast, the material is then disseminated through BBC Material for all BBC news outlets and is used according to the discretion of the producers who select, according to their programme need, from the UGC in BBC Material pool.
Social media and the BBC during Egyptian revolution
BBC working definition of UGC for newsgathering is “content supplied to the BBC via mobile devices as well as content submitted online, through social media sites or through the post e.g. video cassettes” (BBC Editorial Guidelines, 2012)
Patricia Whitehorne, editor of BBC UGC Hub clearly points that the UGC Hub can be a quick provider of material for broadcast: “As soon as an event happens, there is the potential for us to provide the first pictures, video and eyewitnesses. But apart from breaking news, we can provide case studies and personal experiences which can enhance and add value to certain stories.” (Appendix 1)
The fierce competition between media organisations means that new trends of newsgathering should be adopted to match the new advances in the flow of information. The Web made it possible for every one to publish their material and hence the news is no longer a business of specialised agencies.
During the Egyptian revolution, Egyptian activists used social media intensively not only to group together but also to post videos, pictures and information of the clashes between the protestors and the riot police. Paul Mason says:
“As the crowd, and others, marched to Tahrir Square, a pattern developed: they would hit a wall of riot police, and the wall would break. The scenes would be posted on YouTube, but if you track back through the Twitter feeds of the leading activists (in English, because the world was watching), you can see it happen.” (Mason, 2012:13)
The activists wanted to make their revolt news and social media worked as a barrier of such news which hit the Web even before news agencies report the stories. Tweets direct interested quarters to where people can find UGC published online. The Egyptian activists abroad follow their peers in Egypt through social media or directly over the phone and further publish the information they have on their own pages taking advantage of their connection of people abroad and that they are under the pressure of security clampdown. Egyptian activist Marwa Hassan who was based in London in the first days of the protests describes (Appendix 3) the way she received information from Egypt through social media networks formed by activists to promote the UGC they post online: “I was getting it through various sources from activists, friends, family and protestors through online sites (social and emails etc.)….. Most people who I talked to wanted to get the news out as there was no media coverage due to the events taking place.” On the way she used these video, Hassan says:
I used these videos by sharing them everywhere I could: sending them to channels, using them in BBC Arabic news on TV and sending to other outlets of the BBC and sharing them on social sites so others can get them. People were also uploading the videos on youtube and other sites and add the JAN25 hashtag and keyword so that they were easier to find. (Appendix 3)
This establishes the objective of the users, in this case activists, which is to be noticed and to promote their activities besides attracting the attention of international public opinion to their revolt. The social media here brought them even closer to media with the growing media interest in grass-root source of information. The interest in UGC within the BBC departments is not only restricted to what UGC Hub provides as BBC Arabic senior producer Ahmad Sarey El-Din states: “We use material of our own as we believe they are more credible. It is worth-mentioning that BBC Arabic has never been tricked by fraudulent ugc or wrong footages of an event that did not really happen.” (Appendix 2) Sarey El-Dine believes that the Arab Spring (a definition used to describe a series of revolts that spread in several Arab countries including the Egypt) triggered “a new age in media where the youth are able to over come the traditional censorship methods by the regimes in the region.” He points that the use of UGC becomes a necessity when material are unavailable: “The shortage of footage coming from many parts of the world such as the autocratic regimes in the Middle East, and some other parts of the world like Burma, Venezuela, etc.”
Patricia Whitehorne stresses that:
“Most of the footage on Arab Spring, and Egypt to a lesser extent, has been ugc. It is difficult to get professionally filmed footage, especially when reporters are banned or the authorities have restricted visas. The main concern is that you can never be 100% sure about the material, but have to try all methods that we can to verify as far as possible. Even so, when using material on air, producers and correspondents will add a line in their scripts indicating that it is difficult to independently verify the footage, so at least the audience is aware.” (Appendix 1)
The BBC UGC Hub continues to provide material collected from various users’ sources to cover news in places where accessibility is an issue such as the current conflict in Syria. During the Egyptian revolution the authorities in Egypt banned international journalists from reporting from Egypt, shut down the internet and mobile services on 27 January 2011 a day before the intended mass protest in Egypt. Reporting on this blackout The New York Times wrote:
“Autocratic governments often limit phone and Internet access in tense times. But the Internet has never faced anything like what happened in Egypt on Friday, when the government of a country with 80 million people and a modernizing economy cut off nearly all access to the network and shut down cellphone service. The shut down caused a 90 per cent drop in data traffic to and from Egypt, crippling an important communications tool used by antigovernment protestors and their supporters to organise and to spread the message.” (The New York Times, 2011)
With the media ban and internet service blackout the need for UGC was even more essential for media organisations to seek UCG. But with the internet blackout, the accessibility to the internet, and hence to social media, was hindered. The social networking and micro-blogging service Twitter launched a speak-to-tweet service, where people could call designated numbers and leave a message that would be transmitted into a tweet.
Despite this internet blackout, UGC kept coming from Egypt and the media outlets were never short of material of striking events from use of live ammunition against protestors to police cars running over protestors. Activist Marwa Hassan explains the how protestors managed to post their videos and pictures online during the internet blackout:
“Some people had minimal services – i.e. much lower speeds and irregular service. Dial-up internet service was also still in use in Egypt (which hasn’t fully transferred all its internet users to broadband due to costs and capacity – which worked very well in our favour) and this was not affected as it relied on landline phones which were always working during the revolution. Some users had access to Thuraya phones (using satellite connections) which there were able to use to upload videos and get in touch with the outside world. Major companies in Egypt were also using satellite connections to ensure their speeds were faster than the available broadband connections and also to ensure uninterrupted services. Some people were able to use their offices and companies in which they work to upload these videos.” (Appendix 3)
Social media became a useful channel for UGC which brings media and the public together. While UGC is available on all sorts of news, yet its prominence is apparent when the ability of the media to report becomes limited or restricted such as in the case of natural disasters like the Tsunami or during conflicts. As news outlets become increasingly dependant on several forms of UGC from areas from which it is difficult to report, social media platforms have become an important form of newsgathering.
UGC was not a novelty during the Egyptian revolution as it was used before on several newsgathering events such as during the Asian Tsunami in 2004 and London 7/7 bombings in 2005 when these events happened unexpectedly. Then UGC was useful in providing a picture of what happened before media could reach the location of the event.
UGC was also useful during the Iranian revolution in 2009 when mobile phones footage broke the media blackout imposed by the Iranian regime. The socio-political circumstances that were surrounding the Egyptian revolution in 2011 made the UGC an important source during the restrictions imposed on journalists who were reporting from Egypt. The status of social media and UGC has been bolstered with the effect UGC has caused by helping activists to spread their message and the media to be able to report on Egypt.
“On December 10, 2003, thousands of Iraqis marched on the streets of Baghdad to protest bombings by insurgents, violence that has caused far more civilian than military casualties. For all practical purposes, The New York Times and other major media outlets missed the march and its significance. But some local bloggers did not. They had been trumpeting the prodemocracy demonstrations for days prior to the event.” (Gillmor, 2006:136)
User-generated content has emerged as a useful and quick source of information for media. The social networking websites such as twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Skype are proving to be a very powerful media that carry user-generated content from remote parts of the world to international prominence.
With its ability to promote, easiness and the fact that they are free-to-use, social media became a powerful tool for citizen journalism and grassroots activism. Social media provided an outlet for people whose opinions were not represented in state of commercial media operating in autocratic country. This was clearly the case during the Arab Spring where antigovernment activists came together and lobbied for their views using social media. This included the possibility to penetrate media through the contents that were generated by users.
Similarly, the social media gave media outlets a free access to the people who make the news. BBC ATV employed the UGC tool during the Egyptian revolution. Social media and user-generated content (photos and videos taken by members of the public) played an important role in coverage of the revolution in Egypt. Despite that it was supplementary to newsgathering for coverage of the Egyptian revolt, yet news organisations had to rely, almost entirely, on UGC via social media when Egyptian authorities banned and restricted foreign media coverage of the protests that began on 25 January 2011.
With the increasing use of UGC, it would be valuable to evaluate how news organisations navigate covering news where journalists work is restricted such as was the case in Egypt during the revolution as in addition to the normal challenges facing journalists, restrictions force news organisations to rely heavily on non-tradiotional methods. Accordingly, news organisations have to regularly evaluate how they are using UGC.
BBC Editorial Guidelines, http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/page/guidance-user-contributions-summary accessed 20 May 2012
Boyd, S, 2011, Revolution = Messiness At Scale, Again, http://stoweboyd.com/post/3105227293/revolution-messiness-at-scale-again accessed 10 May 2012
Dubai School of Government, 2012, Arab Social Media Report, http://www.dsg.ae/en/publication/Description.aspx?PubID=236&PrimenuID=11&mnu=Pri, accessed: 12 June 2012
Gilmor, D. 2006, We the media, Grassroots journalism by the people for the people, O’Reilly, California.
Gunelius, S. 2010, The shift from consumers to prosumers http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2010/07/03/the-shift-from-consumers-to-prosumers/ accessed: 01 June 2012
Mainwaring, S. 2011, Exactly What Role Did Social Media Play in the Egyptian Revolution? http://simonmainwaring.com/facebook/exactly-what-role-did-social-media-play-in-the-egyptian-revolution/ accessed 10 May 2012
Mason, P. 2012, Why it’s kicking off everywhere, The new global revolutions. Verso, London.
Popek, E. 2011, Understanding the world of user-generated content, Rosen Publishing Group, New York.
The New York Times, Egypt cuts off most internet and cell service. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/29/technology/internet/29cutoff.html, accessed 12 June 2012.
Bell, J. 2010, Doing Your Research project: a guide for first-time researchers in education and social science. Open University Press.
Bolter, JD; Grusin, R. 2000, Remediation; Understanding New Media, The MIT Press, Massachusetts.
Gilmor, D. 2006, We the media, Grassroots journalism by the people for the people, O’Reilly, California.
Jenkins, H. 2006, Convergence Culture, Where old and new media collide. New YorkUniversity Press. New York.
Mason, P. 2012, Why it’s kicking off everywhere, The new global revolutions. Verso, London.
Popek, E. 2011, Understanding the world of user-generated content, Rosen Publishing Group, New York.
BBC UGC Hub Editor
When was UGC Hub first launched and why?
The first big story where user generated content played a part was the Asian tsunami in 2004. We were getting emails and pictures from people caught up in events and these were used on air, primarily by the then, News 24. But it wasn’t until the London terror attacks in July 2005, when it was decided to fund a dedicated team, and it became known as the ugc hub. At the time of the 7/7 bombings, we received pictures and emails from people stranded on the underground, and also a picture of the bus that was bombed, with its roof blown off. The stories and images that we received gave a vivid account of what happened on 7/7. From then on, it became clear that user generated content had a part to play in News – particularly on breaking stories.
How useful is the hub for BBC TV channels output?
The hub is very useful for TV news – but other news outlets as well. It comes into its own on breaking stories, as highlighted by 7/7 mentioned above. As soon as an event happens, there is the potential for us to provide the first pictures, video and eyewitnesses. But apart from breaking news, we can provide case studies and personal experiences which can enhance and add value to certain stories. And as we increasing engage with social networks, we can alert News channels to stories that audiences may be talking about but News is missing, and give a sense of the mood around certain stories and events.
How UGC Hub normally selects UGC that could be used in BBC channels news and programmes?
We get ugc in a variety of ways. Via the news website, by adding a form to the news story asking people to get in touch or publishing a very specific call to action; via social networks – by tweeting a call to action, or searching YouTube, Flickr, etc.’ via an on-air request, usually the News Channel
What is the process that UGC has to pass through to be considered suitable for broadcast?
First and foremost – is it genuine. We need to rigorously authenticate any ugc as best we can, whether it be a speaker or video or stills. Just as important is copyright on video and stills – who shot the material and who owns it – are they happy for the BBC to use. Quality of the content is also a consideration.
How UGC Hub helped BBC television during the coverage of January 2011 Egyptian revolution?
During the Egyptian revolution, and as protesters began to gather in Tahrir Square, we were able to get people involved in the protests, as well as many images. We also managed to get a few speakers in other areas outside of Cairo, which helped the news coverage.
Is there any record of footage about Egyptian revolution that had been used by BBC channels from 25 January to 11 February 2011 from UGC material?
We don’t keep records, other than our enps running orders for the relevant dates. When we verify video and there’s interest from TV news to use it, it goes into Jupiter but after a certain time span, the material is automatically deleted. However, if a news outlet is planning a special or the footage is outstanding, the material may be kept and archived.
How BBC UGC Hub collect video footage about the Egyptian revolution?
As referred to above, we added forms to the main news stories with details of how people can upload video to us. Also, we were proactive in looking for video on social networks and video sharing websites.
If collected from social media and video sharing website, how UGC Hub is alerted to UGC posted online and social media?
We were fortunate to work very closely with Arabic speaking colleagues at BBC Monitoring, and on occasions we would have an Arabic producer sitting with the ugc team. They helped with searching platforms such as Youtube and Facebook groups. We also liaise with the BBC bureau and teams on the ground.
Also, after a period of time, we could build up a database of people who posted regularly.
Is there any experience learned during the Egyptian revolution with regard to methods and procedure of processing of UGC.
We were able to speak to people directly and it certainly helped to have Arabic speakers working with our team, who not only could speak the language, but in some cases were familiar with the locations and cities, so could pinpoint exactly where material was shot.
Compared to previous experience of using UGC, what were the challenges that faced the broadcast journalists and editors in UGC hub while selecting footage during the Egyptian revolution?
As well as authenticity and making sure the material was not old, another of the great challenges is duty of care to users. This has become a bigger issue as the story moved away from Egypt to other countries facing the ‘Arab Spring’. For example, we have to consider, when using eyewitnesses, whether it’s safe to use their full name, or just a first name.
Are producers happy to use UGC material if they could not find professionally filmed footage. What concerns they normally voice?
Most of the footage on Arab Spring, and Egypt to a lesser extent, has been ugc. It is difficult to get professionally filmed footage, especially when reporters are banned or the authorities have restricted visas. The main concern is that you can never be 100% sure about the material, but have to try all methods that we can to verify as far as possible. Even so, when using material on air, producers and correspondents will add a line in their scripts indicating that it is difficult to independently verify the footage, so at least the audience is aware.
How reliable are the UGC from social media and video sharing websites.
You can’t just go to social media sites and lift material without doing extensive checks. Very often material is posted and reposted several times, so footage claiming to be of one event, could be quite old and of something entirely different. But if you are able to get through to the person who filmed the footage, by questioning them closely and using journalistic skills, you can determine how reliable the material is likely to be. You could do technical checks and try to ascertain how old video might be but in the end, the nature of the story means that ugc from the Arab Spring countries is unlikely to be totally reliable, and we should make that clear to the audience.
Ahmad Sarey El-Din
How often you use ugc in your bulletins?
Almost on daily basis because of two reason
1. The Arab Spring has initiated a new age in media in where the youth are able to over come the traditional censorship methods by the regimes in the region
2. The shortage of footages coming from many parts of the world like the autocratic regimes in the middle east, and some other parts of the world like Burma, Venezuela, etc Actually even rare accidents and incidents in the developed world as well like we saw during the London riots.
Do you trust these contents?
No, I have to resort to people from where these ugc originate. that is people from the countries from which we get the ugc, then compare the content with the news coming from the other activists sources… then put them both against the official or semi official versions of the story, then they make sense.
Besides material from ugc hub, do you research for ugc by yourself or assign members of your teams to do so?
We rarely use the BBC UGC Hub, we use material of our own as we believe they are more credible. It is worth-mentioning that BBC Arabic has never been tricked by fraudulent ugc or wrong footages of an event that did not really happen.
If you do so, how do you process these ugc for authenticity?
As mentioned above, first we show them to the people from the countries from which ugc originates. We then compare the content to the other sources of other activists
then we show them along with the official versions of the stories, for example, if we get footages of gunfire in Zabadani, we consult Syrians in the news room, then compare them to the version of activists, whether they are actually saying that there is bombing in Zabadani… then we compare our information with the the official story from state news agency or sources which are considered pro-regime.
Did you use ugc from Egypt during 25 January?
Yes, we used the famous police car running over protesters in tahreer
Were you satisfied with using such footage?
How did you take part in the Egyptian revolution?
I was abroad and wasn’t able to go to Egypt so attended the demonstrations outside the Egyptian Embassy in London and getting information from Egypt and distribute it online and to media. I was finally able to fly to Egypt on Feb 17th to continue with the demos since then.
How did you manage to get news about what was going there in Egypt during the revolution?
I was getting it through various sources. From activists, friends, family and protestors through online sites (social and emails etc…), text messages where they could, phone calls (mobile and then landline). Most people who I talked to wanted to get the news out as there was no media coverage due to the events taking place.
How did you receive videos from activists in Egypt on the events taking place there and how did you use them?
This was mostly through twitter links or where they were able to upload them onto a hosting site and then send links. I used these videos by sharing them everywhere I could: sending them to channels, using them in BBC Arabic news on TV and sending to other outlets of the BBC and sharing them on social sites so others can get them. People were also uploading the videos on youtube and other sites and add the JAN25 hashtag and keyword so that they were easier to find.
How would you be alerted to what happen in Egypt then?
I was mainly getting my news through my friends and contacts via text messages, phone calls and emails. Sometimes we had to use social networks (Facebook and twitter) when they were still being used as a fast way of sharing the news.
Did you use the videos you find in any way that could have helped the activists protesting against Mubarak regime?
By sharing the videos and distributing them I had hoped this would alert the outside world to what is happening and this would add more pressure to Mubarak and his regime to step down if not flee.
Were you in direct contact with journalists abroad to send them or direct them to footage about the revolution?
Yes. As I working in BBC Arabic I had used the information and videos that I had with the news editors who used it in their programmes and news bulletins. I was also able to contact a few journalists from other channels (TV and radio) and provide them with the videos and contacts of people taking part.
How video footage and other information were sent from Egypt or uploaded into video sharing websites during the internet and mobile service black-out?
Not all broadband companies had their services stopped, some people had minimal services – i.e. much lower speeds and irregular service. Dial-up internet service was also still in use in Egypt (which hasn’t fully transferred all its internet users to broadband due to costs and capacity – which worked very well in our favour) and this was not affected as it relied on landline phones which were always working during the revolution. Some users had access to Thuraya phones (using satellite connections) which there were able to use to upload videos and get in touch with the outside world. Major companies in Egypt were also using satellite connections to ensure their speeds were faster than the available broadband connections and also to ensure uninterrupted services. Some people were able to use their offices and companies in which they work to upload these videos. Twitter had also made a service where people would call a number and say a message which appeared in their twitter timeline. This was also very useful.
Were you or your colleagues sending any video footage directly to television journalists?
Yes. Mainly the BBC (BBC Arabic and BBC World News).
Did you or other Egyptian activists made use of send us your videos or pictures facility provided by several television channels?
Yes. People were trying to get the videos and news to as many outlets as possible as media was not able to get to the action safely and were targeted by the police and military personnel.
Which of the videos that you or your colleagues worked on were featured in television?
Almost all the video footage I have received were used by the BBC and other channels as there were no crews on the ground who were able to film and send the footage to their channels. It is worth-mentioning that the black-out was not all the fault of the government. The number of people in Tahrir square (for example) using their mobiles or internet. The pressure on the networks meant that not everyone was able to get through by calling or receiving calls. This still happens whenever there’s a big demo in the square and people still experience connection problems.