BBC Arabic, social media and citizen production: an experiment in digital democracy before the Arab Spring

Gillespie, Marie (2013). BBC Arabic, social media and citizen production: an experiment in digital democracy before the Arab Spring. Theory, Culture & Society, 30(4) pp. 92–130.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276413482382

Abstract

This article examines an innovative experiment in democratising international broadcasting through embracing a participatory model of production. In spring 2010, a political debate television series was co-created by BBC Arabic and citizen producers, using social media tools. Based around interviews with prominent political and controversial public figures, the show (G710) was broadcast weekly on satellite TV across the Middle East and the Arabic-speaking world. Combining collaborative ethnography with corporate ‘big data’ analysis, the research team followed the experiment from conception to premature closure. The article argues that the kinds of digital tools deployed in producing the show, and used by BBC audience research to monitor user practices in real time, have become essential to corporate processes of BBC World Service governance, strategy, accountability, marketing and editorial decision-making. They act as change agents, presenting methodological problems and opportunities for the BBC’s audience researchers and academic researchers, as well as symbolising the contradictory logic of empowerment and surveillance.

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