The Fifth Branch: Where citizens are in charge
Gone are the days when the traditional media was the gatekeeper of information and the exclusive distributor of news. Social media tore down the gate, allowing direct access to the news sources and individual voices in custom-tailored feeds created by the user for other users.
For Guam users, several Facebook pages have proliferated over the past 10 years, building a new public sphere for unregulated—sometimes chaotic— free expression.
The Guam community’s divided opinion on the Covid-19 pandemic and the entailing government actions and policies are fought out on Facebook.
Political rallies have taken a new form; they are staged on Facebook, where the cheering and heckling are louder than in real life.
For politicians, social media opened a platform for their own press and photo releases without being screened by newspaper editors, broadcast media producers, or mediated by advertising executives.
While community journalism on Guam remains active, social media has become a more active battleground for political ideas— some may be truly informative while others can be extremely inane and toxic.
Comments on Facebook, photos on Instagram, drips of ideas on Twitter and soundbites on TikTok fill the crevices in our time. They are almost impossible to avoid.
Nevertheless, the platform builds a democratic regime that allows every user to like, share, block, mute, unfollow and log off. Those who choose to retreat into becoming digital hermit can delete their account altogether.
While journalism is referred to as the Fourth Branch, social media is the Fifth Branch, where citizens are in charge.
The Pacific Newsroom is the hub of news around the Pacific region. On Guam, the most active pages such as Guam Citizens Patrol, Guam Citizens for Public Accountability, and Fanmannokan (Guåhan Politics) serve as community watchdogs that seek to hold public officials accountable for their transgressions.
They are, at the same time, a venue for political supporters rallying behind their candidates.
How social media activities influence Guam’s political consciousness and how they will shape this year’s elections will be determined at the polls.
What was initially built to showcase nothing but photos of babies, puppies and kittens has since mutated into different forms—a flea market of raw ideas, a war zone for political arguments, a factory of propaganda, a troll farm. It’s a powerful machine that shares its power with every user.
But, as the old adage says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The challenge for every user is to learn how to process information, collect the gems and toss the garbage.