Posted by: Alvin | June 16, 2009

The Revolution Won’t Be Televised, It’ll be on Twitter

A supporter of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi shouts slogans during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009 (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images)

A supporter of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi shouts slogans during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009 (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images)

In the last 48 hours or so, something amazing has happened. In fact, a few amazing things have happened, and they all have to do with Iran’s presidential elections, social and mainstream media, and people all over the world. I have many friends that don’t understand Twitter, much less understand my love for it. But since this last Saturday, anyone who thought Twitter was a passing fad has a whole new reason to take pause and think again.

Following the massive social response to the quite obviously fraudulent election results in Iran, millions of Iranians all over the country rose up and defied official edicts preventing them from demonstrating. They gathered in major cities, the biggest demonstrations obviously being in Tehran, and marched. On Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced as the overwhelming winner in the presidential election, leading many supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi to take to the streets. Ahmadinejad for his part equated what the protesters were feeling to “the passions after a football match.” This prompted even more people to join the crowds rallying against Ahmadinejad.

In it of itself, this was amazing. Iran is a nation where protests must be planned and asked permission for. A country where challenging authority rarely ends well and where thousands of political prisoners have been locked away for doing much less. Many commentators have claimed that the last time such outrage was openly voiced on the streets was just before the revolution that toppled the Western-backed Shah. In response to the protesters, Iranian officials began to clamp down on non-state media. Cell phone towers were disabled blocking calls and SMS, BBC and other international broadcasts were jammed, and facebook and other social networking sites were blocked. The only problem was that they forgot about Twitter.

Starting Saturday night and really getting going Sunday, Iranian youth took to Twitter in droves sending out dispatches 140 characters at a time. Attaching breathtaking pictures and video clips, letting the world know exactly what was happening. This, ladies and gentlemen, was the raw power of Twitter in action. One tweeter from Iran summer it up perfectly, sending this message out to the world: “Ahmadinejad called us Dust, we showed him a sandstorm.” Suddenly pictures like these were ricocheting all over the web, while videos like this were illustrating how far government officials would go to find the young people doing this incredible reporting. All over twitter the #iranelection ‘hashtag’ (tags used to follow topics) allowed everyday people from all over the world to interact with everyday Iranians in a way that only two years ago could have never been imagined.

But it doesn’t stop there. Twitter is a massive system, with thousands of servers and other infrastructure to help support it all. As a result, Twitter’s server provider has to shut the system down regularly for 1 or 2 hours at a time for routine maintenance. Usually this downtime happens in the middle of the night in North America, so the vast majority of Twitter users never notice a thing. The only problem is that there was a scheduled downtime planned for Monday night, which would have meant a Twitter blackout in the middle of the day in Iran, hampering the efforts of tweeters there. As news of this downtime hit Twitter, users all over the world came to the aid of Iranians and demanded the downtime be delayed using the hashtag #nomaintenence to gather support. It worked. Twitter spoke to it’s server partner and the delay was moved to Tuesday between 2-3pm PST. The middle of the day here, but 1:30am in Tehran. It has now also been reported that even the US State Department got involved and urged Twitter to delay maintenance.

So what we have here is a social media framework that has enabled instant communication between an embattled group of people in one corner of the world with people in every other part of the world. A communications medium that is largely unfiltered, democratic, and instant. We see people all over the world vote with their computers and phones to seek out and even help the citizen coverage of an extraordinary event. And we have seen all of this happen outside of the realm of mainstream media. In fact, it’s MSM that has turned to Twitter for it’s coverage. CBC, BBC, CNN, and others have all realized that people on the ground are doing a such a way better job of covering the rapidly unfolding events, all they can do is what individuals all over the world have been doing since Saturday, open up tweetdeck and monitor the #iranelection feed.

If anyone doubted before that we are witnessing the end of MSM as we know it and the end of journalism as we knew it, the last 3 days should be a wake up call. News is finally democratic, reporters and sources are now one and the same, and the commentators? You and me.

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Responses

  1. Nicely written. 🙂 I don’t think it’s the end of journalism as we know or knew it, but it’s definitely changed things. 🙂 Well-done.

  2. then again, cnn is running a rerun right now. if twitter is the end of the current state of msm, it’s actually too soon. i keep thinking journalism is what it was when i was a kid and we saw world events unfold live a lot. not so much anymore, i guess. 😦 again, nicely written.


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