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Understanding Why Twitter Excels in Iran Protest Coverage

Naghshe Jahan Sq / Esfehan / IRAN #iranelection on Twitpic

So why is the so unlikely Twitter such a blockbuster medium in exposing what’s happening in Ira? Here is what Time says:

So what exactly makes Twitter the medium of the moment? It’s free, highly mobile, very personal and very quick. It’s also built to spread, and fast. Twitterers like to append notes called hashtags — #theylooklikethis — to their tweets, so that they can be grouped and searched for by topic; especially interesting or urgent tweets tend to get picked up and retransmitted by other Twitterers, a practice known as retweeting, or just RT. And Twitter is promiscuous by nature: tweets go out over two networks, the Internet and SMS, the network that cell phones use for text messages, and they can be received and read on practically anything with a screen and a network connection.

Here is something someone sent me from the ARNOVA-L listserv:

Technical: Twitter is very easily accessible across a wide variety of platforms; it takes very little time and almost no verification in order to set up an account, so users can change identities very quickly if needed; tweets are very easy to forward (retweet); and the format of followers/followed can create an instant community around a topic. The volume of tweets is so large, as well, that it’s much more difficult for the authorities to track down a single user or group of users.

Here is Clay Shirky:

One thing that Evan (Williams) and Biz (Stone) did absolutely right is that they made Twitter so simple and so open that it’s easier to integrate and harder to control than any other tool. At the time, I’m sure it wasn’t conceived as anything other than a smart engineering choice. But it’s had global consequences. Twitter is shareable and open and participatory in a way that Facebook’s model prevents. So far, despite a massive effort, the authorities have found no way to shut it down, and now there are literally thousands of people aorund the world who’ve made it their business to help keep it open…It’s incredibly messy, and the definitive rules of the game have yet to be written. So yes, we’re seeing the medium invent itself in real time.

Here is more:

…as a medium gets faster, it gets more emotional. We feel faster than we think. But Twitter is also just a much more personal medium. Reading personal messages from individuals on the ground prompts a whole other sense of involvement. We’re seeing everyone desperate to do something to show solidarity like wear green — and suddenly the community figures out that it can actually offer secure web proxies, or persuade Twitter to delay an engineering upgrade — we can help keep the medium open.

But this from Time:

Twitter isn’t a magic bullet against dictators. As tempting as it is to think of the service as a purely anarchic weapon of the masses, too distributed to be stoppable, it is theoretically feasible for a government to shut it down, according to James Cowie, CTO of Renesys, a company that collects data on the status of the Internet in real time.

However, Time ends with this:

Twitter didn’t start the protests in Iran, nor did it make them possible. But there’s no question that it has emboldened the protesters, reinforced their conviction that they are not alone and engaged populations outside Iran in an emotional, immediate way that was never possible before. President Ahmadinejad — who happened to visit Russia on Tuesday — now finds himself in a court of world opinion where even Khrushchev never had to stand trial. Totalitarian governments rule by brute force, and because they control the consensus worldview of those they rule. Tyranny, in other words, is a monologue. But as long as Twitter is up and running, there’s no such thing.

2 Responses to “Understanding Why Twitter Excels in Iran Protest Coverage”

  1. Edward O'Meara Says:

    If you haven’t yet seen Clay Shirky’s TED talk from the State Dept, take the 17 minutes and watch it.

  2. Leonard Witt Says:

    Thanks Ed. My link too in the post above will take you to the TED talk with the Iran update added to it.