Palestine flag
Credit: by jfgornet on Flickr. Some rights reserved
In an age where ISIS has its own YouTube channel, and eyewitness reports often hit Twitter before mainstream media, social media has fundamentally changed the dynamics of conflict reporting.

"Social media is affecting how we as journalists gather information and how we report on it," noted Anne-Marie Tomchak, a reporter and presenter at BBC Trending, at the 2014 Web Summit in Dublin yesterday.

"It's affecting how groups disseminate their message and how they gain support.

"But it's also affecting how people share information, and how they share misinformation."

She noted that some images being shared on social media earlier this year with the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack were actually taken not in Gaza, but in Aleppo.



Authenticity and verification remain essential, Tomchak said, adding that social media users, as well as journalists, had become "really discerning" about what they were seeing online.
 
Social media can also be a powerful force in keeping issues alive that are no longer at the top of the news agenda.

As an example, Tomchak pointed to the hashtag #bringbackourgirls, which spread widely on social media following the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Nigeria in April.


Six months later, the story is no longer widely reported, but there is a "huge contingent" on social media who are still calling for the return of the girls, said Tomchak, and #bringbackourgirls has now been tweeted over one million times.

Looking to the future, Tomchak said she believed chat apps would increasingly become "the place in which we distribute our news and the place in which we find stories and gather news."

The BBC used WhatsApp and WeChat to distribute news around the Indian elections earlier this year and last month launched a WhatsApp service in West Africa to offer breaking news bulletins regarding Ebola.

The outlet is also experimenting with the instant messaging app Line.

As well as being more accessible in some countries where use of social media is still relatively low, and where feature phones are more common than smartphones, chat apps also offer an opportunity to reach audiences in areas where access to social media networks may be restricted.

There's no doubt that social media is a place where political, cultural and social change is happening.Anne-Marie Tomchak, BBC Trending
For example, in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy demonstrations are taking place, social media platforms are being censored," said Tomchak.

"However, people took to the FireChat app and they used Bluetooth and 'daisy chaining' as a way of getting around that censorship."

In response to the developments in social media, the BBC recently launched a new YouTube channel, Trending Now, which will be publishing daily videos and breaking social media trends.

"There's no doubt that social media is a place where political, cultural and social change is happening," said Tomchak, "and it is also one of the newest weapons in war."

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).