BBC War Reporter

Social conflict: reporting from the frontlines

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  1. CNN
  2. Vice
  3. NPR
  4. BBC

Thanks to technology, and social media in particular, the world has shrunk, making it possible to keep tabs on conflicts happening all over the globe. Even in remote places where high speed Internet is not yet ubiquitous, newsmakers can report from the frontlines of riots, protests, and uprisings using text messages sent to Twitter over feature phones.

BBC War Reporter

Where the connections are better and smartphone use is widespread, people involved in conflicts share dramatic videos and photos over social media platforms as events unfold. As a result, several news and content providers are finding innovative ways to use this information from the frontlines in their reports.



This international news network uses information sent over social media channels from the frontlines of conflicts to augment the information its reporters gather and present on its news programs. In some cases, CNN reporters rely on social media to find out where protesters are going to stage their next demonstration. They may also reach out through social media to arrange individual interviews with those leading protests and demonstrations.

CNN has provided on-air and online coverage of efforts by governments to block access to social media platforms, including Egypt’s efforts to block Facebook and Twitter in 2011, and recent attempts to stop access to Twitter in Venezuela. Also in this South American conflict zone, CNN has compiled verified photos that citizens posted to social media outlets, as well as examples of government-manipulated photos posted online to confuse the public.

Journalists at CNN know that social media is a critical link to organizers of pro-democracy movements, and a way to help younger viewers connect with what’s happening overseas. CNN recognizes that young viewers accept social media as an important source of information. Ignoring social media as a viable source of information would turn off a growing segment of the public that embraces these platforms as legitimate ways to obtain information. CNN has been so successful at incorporating social media into its coverage, it’s won multiple Shorty Awards, which recognize excellence in content production across social media platforms.



Shane Smith helped found this premier provider of engaging and relevant content that ranges from fashion and food to accounts from the frontlines of conflict zones. It started as a free magazine available at select locations on the Lower East Side in New York City, and evolved into a media empire that partners with the likes of CNN to provide readers with high quality information. This growth and expansion occurred under the guidance of Shane Smith, a compelling storyteller who has an uncanny knack for making hard news relevant to the under 40 crowd.

Perhaps most importantly, Vice has become a platform where readers encounter first person accounts from hot spots around the globe. The coverage incorporates cell phone video, photos, and information gleaned from social media outlets to blend a snapshot of what’s happening on the ground in places like Ukraine and Syria.

Vice began offering coverage of the conflict from the frontlines in 2007 when it gave readers an entire issue of devoted to the words of Iraqis themselves. Since then, Shane Smith has directed Vice toward integrating social media content into its coverage of national conflicts. This style of coverage from conflict zones appeals to a young demographic that reads or watches first person accounts every day on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and YouTube.



National Public Radio incorporates into its coverage of conflicts broad overviews of the “chatter” or trends emerging on social media platforms. While this online and radio news source is less likely to read individual tweets than a host on CNN, it does try to discern a snapshot of conflict zones based on photos, information, and videos posted and shared on social media.

Like CNN, NPR has reported on efforts by governments to squash citizens’ access to social media sites as a means to curb or end efforts to organize protests and incite riots. One of the strengths of NPR is the analysis it offers, and it has offered thoughtful discussions of the role social media plays in hot spots around the world.

Many reporters and hosts on NPR have robust social media accounts for monitoring news and staying in touch with viewers who provide feedback on all their coverage, including on civil unrest in Afghanistan and Syria. The content provider that serves a network of member stations, as well as online readers, follows its own social media policy laid out in the NPR Ethics Handbook to police its use of content on the air. The guidelines also outline how NPR personnel should conduct themselves when participating in social media platforms when covering big news events such as the frontlines of conflicts.



The British Broadcasting Corporation earns widespread recognition for its coverage of international news, especially in places where there’s civil unrest. Just as NPR has a set of rules guiding its use of social media on the air and by its staff, the BBC applies its editorial standards across all content, whether it’s gleaned from online sources or through more traditional means.

The BBC offers robust coverage of governments preventing citizens from using and reading social media sites. In addition, the BBC has a social media team that’s tasked with identifying and reporting trends to help shape the public’s understanding of conflicts and what’s happening on the frontlines. The BBC’s website offers a special section dedicated to social media patterns called BBC Trending. By monitoring social media trends, the news giant gains credibility among consumers of all ages. Instead of just reporting isolated tweets or Facebook status updates, the website offers an overview of the conversations happening in conflict zones.

Media critics warn that without the appropriate context and verification of the source of information, social media platforms have limitations that can make it difficult to gather accurate information. At the same time, ignoring information shared on social media simply isn’t an option for content producers who want to inform the public about conflicts in places like Ukraine and Syria.

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