Skip to comments.Twitter opens eyes to Iran's unrest Social network earns new respect
Posted on 06/20/2009 11:15:58 AM PDT by frithguild
Thirty years ago, the Ayatollah Khomeini used audio cassettes and videotapes to spread his message of dissent and Islamic revolution across Iran. The old theocrat and his followers knew how to exploit the audio-visual media available to them to stoke rebellion.
A generation later, young Iranians have again taken to the streets, this time to protest the "landslide" re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a vote that his reformist opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, insists was rigged.
But this is a very different media environment. The Iranian government can ban and restrict the professional journalists who are trying to cover the demonstrations. It's harder to stop people with cellphone cameras, who can post their images directly to YouTube and Flickr.
At the same time, Twitter, the micro-blogging social network once derided by its critics as a vapid venue for meaningless gossip and solipsistic exhibitionism, has been earning new respect, now that dissenters within Iran and their supporters abroad have co-opted the site.
It's hard to tell, from this remove, how useful Twitter has been within Iran to help protesters plan and communicate. The strength and the weakness of Twitter is that it is an utterly open forum. It's hardly practical to plot a revolution on a site where agents of the state can monitor your every conversation, or pass themselves off as supporters.
But there's no denying the impact of Twitter as a social catalyst outside of Iran.
The Twitter website tracks the most common topics people are chatting about. Usually, they're posts about hot new films, reality TV shows or overnight pop cult sensations. But this week, Iran is the hottest topic, as tweeters around the world are following events with a passion and zeal usually reserved for American Idol, swapping photographs and video links, news headlines and statements of solidarity.
You might say Twitter is abetting two social revolutions. On the one hand, it's serving as a medium for English-speaking dissidents within Iran to get their message out, and to receive support back again.
Simultaneously, all this tweeting is raising the political consciousness of tens of thousands of young people around the world, giving them a direct sense of connection with the Iranians who've taken to the streets.
One of the amazing powers of Twitter is the sense of intimacy it creates within its community of users. Suddenly, this revolution isn't happening thousands kilometres away, in a country most of us have never visited. It's happening on our laptops and in our BlackBerrys. Twitter gives us the feeling, however illusory, that we are in the midst of the fray, that the words of support we type here can make a difference there.
It's an utterly different experience from watching the news, passively, on television--one that's creating an unprecedented kind of global political engagement.
But the impact goes well beyond a kind of superficial international cheerleading.
Marshall McLuhan, that Edmonton-born pioneer of media theory, summed it up in one pithy phrase: the medium is the message. These days, the phrase has become so cliched, we've almost lost its meaning. But McLuhan was right. The way we receive the news changes the way we react to it.
Twitter offers its users a degree of real-time interactivity and involvement, a sense of personal power and responsibility no newspaper or TV newscast can hope to match.
With cash-strapped mainstream media offering less and less coverage of international news, Twitter, allied to YouTube and the rest of the web, has filled a void.
Of course, since Twitter has no editors or fact-checkers, its burbling information stream can never be relied upon for accuracy or impartiality. And you can't provide in-depth political analysis in a 140-character tweet. Still, Twitter can serve as a quick and easy conduit to mainstream news sites and legitimate, well-informed bloggers. In the last seven days, Twitter has truly become the newsfeed of the global village.
It remains to be seen how long, and how well, this Twitter revolution can flourish. The cynic in me can't help but wonder if the Iranian political crisis isn't just the social media flavour-of-the-month, if all the earnest, eager young North American tweeters won't eventually get tired of following the story, the way they tired of Susan Boyle or Jon and Kate.
I worry too, that there's something a little disquieting about people here, sitting back and watching the life-and-death drama on the streets of Tehran as though the protests were a kind of high-stakes reality TV show.
Sure, revolution makes a compelling narrative. But the stakes here are a little higher than being voted off the island.
Yet as I read through all the passionate, optimistic posts about Iran on the Twitter feed, another part of me is hopeful--hopeful, not just for meaningful democratic reform in Iran, but that this online communications revolution might remind people here, young and old, of the value of democracy, the importance of open debate, and the power of speaking the truth.
Dinosaur media seems to suffer from the news consumer's lack of trust. The "intimacy" you experience from sources such a twitter seems to spring from trust in the source.
Dinosaur Media Deathwatch ping
Obama takes a stand! Finally!
If only they’d not given it such a GAY name!
THE LORD OF THE FLIES is caution to speak out against the protests because his intentions are to RULE us like the ayatollahs!! THAT has been his goal all along, along with his maggots!! ON TO THE TEA PARTY REVOLUTION!!
On July 7, Twitter will look like the most straight name in history after the SciFi network changes its name to Syfy.
Through twitter. Girl shot to death by basij
Do not watch this unless you are willing to see someone die before your eyes.
Pathetic. The crowd is just as clueless as he is.
May God hear my prayers for the soul of this poor young lady whose name we may never know. May He give her peace and the freedom that she died seeking.
Amen Frithguild, young men and women willing to lay down their lives for the “idea” of liberty and freedom in the true sense, while our gutless leader mumbles, hems and haws or remains silent.
Presidents Reagan and Bush 43 would eat his lunch and give appropriate statements.
I’m convinced that those Iranian signs and placards in English are a plea for our support, VERBAL support if nothing else, there’s a reason for that, it did not occur in a vacuum.
Question, do you need to do updates to be effective—I have changed settings, but don’t know if I need to keep doing status updates every so often—usually I don’t do them at all....