MELBOURNE (Radio Australia Pacific Beat / Pacific Media Watch): During last week's political turmoil, many Papua New Guineans relied on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with the rapidly unfolding situation.
Recent events show how PNG's growing blogosphere, mounting number of facebook users and tweeters are bringing the nation together in new ways. This week, social media users have turned out in force to report and debate the constitutional crisis, in a shift away from traditional media.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Emmanuel Narokobi, editor of PNG's Masalai blog.
NAROKOBI: I think just the whole thing in itself has been done before so how quickly the information like during the first day when the Prime Ministers were rushing down to the gates of Government House and trying to get in, and the situation there. People were reporting that within seconds, so a lot of people haven't needed to go to mainstream media because they're getting real-time information just from Facebook and Twitter.
COUTTS: Emmanuel do you think that it's likely that because people aren't rioting in the streets as we might have seen in the past, but now because they're got an outlet and are having a say via Twitter and Facebook that they don't feel the need to go out onto the streets and throw stones, that they are actually having a say?
NAROKOBI: I think so, I think it's partly contributing to that, especially because things being focused on Port Moresby. It's also because it's a political issue, so it's really sort of a legal argument and the issues, you don't feel physically about them like the Sandline crisis where people were actually [protesting] it's like a thing dealing about the laws and everything. People are talking about and discussing it and yeah, there's information at hand. What I've seen on Facebook a lot of people don't understand the legal issues, but through that medium they've been able to understand and get to know what's happening.
COUTTS: And are the politicians themselves knowing this, taking part also in Twitter and Facebook?
NAROKOBI: A couple of them have been, and before the current issues started they were getting into it. Sam Basil one of the politicians with the O'Neill group was a popular one, so I'd say right now possibly not because they're so entrenched in their positions right now. But they have taken notice of it and we have in part of discussions with Transparency International and the Community Coalition Against Corruption, in terms of trying to find ways to look at how we can get both sides to talk to each other. So we've involved in that way, and sort of representing the 65-thousand Facebook users, PNG Facebook users.
COUTTS: A good proportion, maybe 50 per cent of the Papua New Guinean population is under 30, so it's a very young population. So do you think this is also the reason why they're flocking to Twitter and Facebook now to have their say, because it's a very young population?
NAROKOBI: Yes it is, and it's the best medium to understand what's going on. The most popular group that I'm a part of and administrator of is Sharp Talk, which has been really good in terms of getting information out, and that's grown, we've probably got about a thousand new members in the last week, and Twitter was trending, like for example, Liam Fox was trending, an Australian like second place on Monday night. So yeah it's certainly heating up with the information getting around.
COUTTS: So the numbers to these outlets have actually just burgeoned, they've just rocketed up the charts as you say, and continue to do that?
NAROKOBI: Yes absolutely, and continuing to grow. Just then on my blog alone I saw a spike on Tuesday where normally I'd get about like 400 hits a day, four or five-hundred, it spiked up to about one-thousand hits in that day. So there's people wanting information and it's out there through the social media.
COUTTS: Well there's a clear message to the government, and I say that because we've got two basically at the moment, two of everything at the moment, there's a clear message there that information's required and the governments have fallen down on this?
NAROKOBI: Absolutely, and our mainstream media, they've been slack, atrocious, just haven't been able to get us anything we need, so we've just been able to help ourselves with social media.
COUTTS: What impact do you think this will have on the traditional media then? Are you talking radio and television and newspapers?
NAROKOBI: Yeah all of them, they haven't been able to keep up, so having to wait till the end of the day to see reports that we already sort of partly sort of heard of. I mean not that they're totally irrelevant, they are necessary, they provide more comprehensive details later in the day.
COUTTS: The new media's providing here and now details that people want, and it also has a calming influence?
NAROKOBI: Yeah, exactly.
COUTTS: So what influence do you think that will have now from this point on, that the new media will actually lead the traditional media?
NAROKOBI: It's already started, it's just in terms of how we can coordinate what we're doing and in terms of Sharp Talk we've been discussing how we can try and sort of diversify how it's presented to people so that it's not restricted to just the Sharp Talk wall, and maybe other mediums like SMS or a proper website and classifying the discussions and so forth. So it's possible, there's a lot of opportunities in it, but just how we can be creative about it.
COUTTS: Is there a worry here with the use of Twitter and Facebook and the speed with which it goes that people might not distinguish between self-serving opinion and comment and fact?
NAROKOBI: No it's sort of self-checks from what I've seen, people have thrown in comments, some maybe inflammatory, sort of this and that or some may not be true, and immediately you have other people saying oh, no, I heard that that's not right or this is right. So it has its own checks and balances, which has been good to see.
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