This is a guest post written by Wilfried Schobeiri.
Anyone watching Twitter trends over the last few days would have noticed the hashtag #CNNFail up there toward the top. Why? Because CNN and other major news media failed to pick up and report on the severity of the turmoil surrounding the Iranian elections. In the mean time, Twitter’s #IranElection, Tehran, Mousavi, Ahmadinejad trends were fire hoses of real-time information, videos, and pictures.
I should disclose this immediately: I was skeptical about Twitter. I had many doubts about its viability as a social/news medium. Too simple. Too small. Too saturated with banalities. Status updates? “What’s the point when you have Facebook?” I asked. But over time, the value of the connections and content streams Twitter facilitated was made clear to me. So I shrugged it off. And then of course there’s the ridiculous valuation. $500 million? $1.7 billion? “They’re not even profitable!” I said. But that’s what the 21st century is all about, isn’t it? Putting price tags on things that are traditionally priceless (cue Master Card commercial). So I shrugged it off too.
But now there’s something else going on, something more substantial and mind blowing than anything else I’ve witnessed here: Twitter is actually facilitating what may soon be labeled a revolutionary movement in Iran. Let that sink in. The revolution will be Twittered.
An enormous community has emerged, spanning the globe. Through the turmoil, students and the IT crowd across Iran have been able to spread news of events. Images and video have proliferated, giving us glimpses of the very real tension currently walking the streets of Tehran. What was likely intended to be a quiet, strictly controlled suppression of events by the present rulers ended up turning into what history will likely judge as a PR nightmare for Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, despite disrupted communications. What’s more is that insiders across Iran have used Twitter to coordinate protests and warn of danger, all while cell and SMS services have been shut down. Meanwhile, major news media was focused on reporting about BET and other infotainment. Thanks to Twitter, the mismatch in facts and positioning in the official responses vs. this breed of citizen reporting has become extremely clear. Thanks to Twitter, the post-election events have flourished with attention. Thanks to Twitter, those of us sitting at our computers half a world away feel closer to the Iranian people and their world.
Of course, the old guard deserves some credit here as well. The slow bleed of traditional media, shuttering of foreign bureaus, and rise of citizen journalism and social media have enabled Twitter to fill the void left by investigative journalism. The average person can now report news across the world, in real time, without sponsorship, time and costs of plane tickets, media visas, and years of familiarization required to accurately cover a region.
Because of the role technology has played, it’s hard for me to liken these events as similar to the elections past. And that’s why I’m now 100% sold on the real value of Twitter.
(In the meantime, CNN has adjusted their coverage. They are now engaging the viewer by reading directly off a Twitter feed displayed on television.)
Wilfried Schobeiri is an Iranian-American software architect and entrepreneur. He has been following the Iranian Elections out of concern for family and welfare of the region. He is passionate about working with startups to create compelling software. He blogs at http://nphase.org.