Tweeting about a revolution

  • As the events in Iran unfold, we are witnessing what many will claim to be the first Twitter enabled revolution: a situation where the social networking tool is credited with sidestepping the censorship efforts of an authoritarian regime to allow democracy and people power to win out.

    Monitoring #iranelection over the past week has been fascinating and disturbing in equal measure. The tweets are so numerous and so rapid that it is almost impossible to keep up with them.

    "Iran Khodro workers on strike, Vahed bus drivers announce solidarity. If oil workers join movement, this can change history."

    "Basij marking homes again! Check before entering, & wipe it off w/ oil"

    "We've been beatn, tortured&killed for the last 30yrs. Nothing supreme liar says can break our will for freedom"

    "#Neda video, a girl being shot in Tehran by Basij sniper"

    We are told that the government in Iran has slowed internet speeds to a crawl and is blocking popular communication sites. Twitter, which can be updated from mobile phones, has allowed the messages to keep coming out.

    "RT @persiankiwi Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail is now completely out of service in Iran"

    Tweeters are turning their avatars green in support of the people of Iran, a call that has been widely taken up as a tide of emotion and solidarity sweeps across the globe. President Obama warned Iran on Friday that "the eyes of the world are watching you" and nowhere is this more true than on Twitter. Time magazine said: "President Ahmadinejad finds himself in a court of world opinion where even Khrushchev never had to stand trial".

    As Andrew Sullivan observes in today's Sunday Times, it is tempting to reflect on how things might have been different in the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 had Twitter been around. One wonders too how the government of the day would have reacted - would it really have been any different to the way Iran is reacting now?

    There is a need for caution, however. For all Twitter's influence we have to be careful that we don't get swept up in a one-sided view of events.

    Twitter is a populist media. Uncensored and unedited, people can post anything to it they want. Identifying the truth from the rumours, lies and misinformation is almost impossible and while it is wrong to question people's intentions, it is evident that there are a number of people jumping on the 'go green for Iran' bandwagon without a proper analysis of the facts.

    If Twitter is going to be a true tool for democracy, tweeters and their followers have to be discerning in what they post, read and believe. However distasteful it might seem on occasions, the medium also has to be available to both sides. Whenever we see any hint of support for Ahmadinejad, or possibly even an attempt by the regime to use Twitter for it's own ends, it is quickly denounced.

    "DO NOT RT anything U read from "NEW" tweeters, gvmt spreading misinfo" was a popular tweet last week.

    Ashton Kutcher called the creation of Twitter "as significant and paradigm shifting as the invention of morse code". That may be the case, but the role of 'old-media' journalists in gathering the facts and giving voice to both sides of the argument is now more important than ever.

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