Twitter and the Iranian Elections

by Guest Post on June 15, 2009

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.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Khürt Williams June 15, 2009 at 6:21 pm

That last statement was telling:

“In the meantime, CNN has adjusted their coverage. They are now engaging the viewer by reading directly off a Twitter feed displayed on television”

Maria Lavis June 15, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Hey you caught me up there Pistachio. :) I also was on CNNfail bandwagon about this (http://twitter.com/#search?q=marialavis%20cnnfail), but really I’ve thought CNN breaking news has been a sham for months and don’t follow it.

I do believe that regular news is important, because it takes time to fact check, double check, put out good copy etc, but for breaking news, twitter is gold.

This case of Twitter bringing the election situation in Iran to the forefront also attests to how in Iran, many people are westernized in an underground kind of way, so managed to leak out there story via twitter, as well as see how regular people around the world were in support of their struggle.

In places like N Korea, and Pakistan, it’s likely another story, and I look forward to the day when citizen journalism is more widespread internationally, and an accepted part of the accepted pathway to how we learn what is going on in the world. In this case, it has shown also, how it can also be vitally important to democracy itself, and peacefully getting the word out, so that, as in the case of demonstrators in Iran, they do not feel they are locked in a silent box of a country, with a bunch of tanks pointed at their faces. They know someone is watching, and willing to share and spread their story.

Yish June 15, 2009 at 7:04 pm

I’ve said it elsewhere. 99% of the time twitter is TWOTer (total waste of time), but when something like #iranelection or #cairospeech comes up, it is unparalled.
Why? because, as @cshirky says, it allows people to organise without organisations. And that is something neither CNN or FaceBook will ever be able to do.

kevin June 15, 2009 at 7:39 pm

I’vealso felt that most of the cable news netwroks have become noise generators. I recommend BBC America, Deutsche Welle, and France 24
also have decent reporting. They’re available on TW cable, not sure how widespread.

David W June 16, 2009 at 10:14 am

Glad to read that you, like me & so many others recently, have realized something of Twitter’s unimagined power, Wilfried. It has given voice to those that just won’t be silenced.

I’ve had my Twitter account for 8 months but hadn’t really used it until last night, watching in awe as the fresher than fresh news kept unfurling in front of me, one Tweet at a time! Actually, I came across a site that you may not have discovered – TweetGrid.com. It’s been taking my breath away because of it’s presentation of 10s of Tweets, constantly cascading, pausing, then being updated. This link http://bit.ly/1d6pH gives you a taste of it.. There are multiple IranianTwitter accounts being monitored, often with some new perspective/news/link/photo… And the stream can be stop at any time…

I found the presentation of all this on-the-ground reporting, in the simple but oh so true sense of the word, drenched with such immediacy (sorry for the hyperbole! I usually talk pretty plain!), at this pivotal time in Iran’s history, to be so compelling… I set to this morning & Tweeted the above link to all the major news organisations here in Australia, hoping access to it might bring a little more accuracy & currency to their reporting (just as CNN is perhaps learning to do…!).

And this, again, is Twitter’s power on show, yeah? Wow! I think I’m sold! But hopefully this power can continue to be used by Iranians, incountry & out, by birth or by solidarity, to keep this momentum rolling until a truly satisfying conclusion is… arrived at (I was going to say “wrestled to the ground”, but there’s been way too much of that already!). I would also hope us out-of-towners would learn much from iranians’ insistent pressing to be heard, speaking up when authority would have silence… Mmm… Anyway, enough from me. Go well, People.

Ciao. David

ps. Btw, do try the link and, in this new system of ours, pass it on to those interested. :-)

David W (magicspin) June 16, 2009 at 10:36 am

Btw, on a still pertinent, tho lighter, note…
http://www.mattbors.com/archives/509.html
Grin
magicspin

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