Undoubtedly, both Jönsson and Örnebring (2011) and Tacchi (2012) recognize the potential of UGC to empower citizens by enabling them to create and share their content. Nevertheless, their approaches to the notion of participation are very different. Jönsson and Örnebring’s analysis of UGC on online British and Sweden newspapers shows that the traditional gatekeeping and newsgathering practices taking place in media organizations make it difficult for users to fully participate in the process of content production. Thus, as the authors pointed out, users are seen by the mainstream media as active consumers of content rather than as participants. In other words, even when users are allowed to create their own content, they are not actually participating because media organizations still control the whole process of content selection and use.
By contrast, Tacchi’s approach to participation seems to be more optimistic. In providing various examples of the “Find a Voice research project, he demonstrated that ICT4D can be used to really “give a voice” to marginalized groups, while increasing the participation of community members both in the creation of content and the discussion of local social issues. Moreover, he argues that ICT4D has the potential to change the traditional top-down communication model, since content is both created by members of marginalized communities, and delivered to traditionally development ‘providers’. In other words, the author sees ICT4D as promising tool for promoting social change.
In comparing the two views of participation, I see Jönsson and Örnebring’s as more realistic. Taking into account that online newspapers invite users to create more entertaining and private life content than news/informational one, it cannot be expected that UGC has a real impact on the politic public sphere. This happens in developed countries, where technology is available and many people have access to education.
Regarding Tacchi’s view, I agree that projects like Find a Voice can certainly promote free expression and participation, and have a wider social impact on the community. However, even if marginalized groups UGC reaches policy makers and government organizations, nobody can ensure that the content is going to be seriously taken as to generate policy changes at a national level to favor those groups. Furthermore, , the generation of a wider social impact would require that more marginalized groups be provided with technology and training on how to use it to create their content, and it would depend on Western countries’ availability and willingness to provide more financial and human resources.
Anyhow, I think Tacchi’s notion of participation has the potential to bring a more meaningful change in society. As shown by the Find a Voice project, being out of the constrains of mainstream media lets people discuss community issues they really care about. By contrast, when users create content for the mainstream media, they are subject to the boundaries imposed by that media in terms of approach and topics, which makes it difficult for them to promote real social changes.