Some thoughts on Twitter in Tehran
posted at 4:02 pm on June 14, 2009 by Patrick Ishmael
As AP has noted, events in Iran are developing far faster than traditional media can report it, and the information overflow is being diverted directly to microblogging service Twitter. A few observations on why Twitter’s been so effective and what its rise really means:
- There is precedence for Twitter’s news gathering power. During the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the best source of news was Twitter, by far, not only because it was a source of new information from text-messaging observers on the ground, but also because those watching events as they unfolded on the panoply of television and radio stations could pass along breaking news uncovered by traditional news media outlets. It was the place where social media and the Old Media intersected, and it was immensely effective at getting information out.
- Twitter’s microblogs can’t easily be banned since they can be updated on sites other than Twitter. If the Iranian Government wants to shut down Twitter like it’s shut down a whole host of other news sources, it’s going to have to shut down the Internet entirely. One feature that makes Twitter so elusive for government authorities is that even if you shut down “Twitter.com,” that doesn’t prevent other partner services from sending and receiving information from the service. Here are some examples. It’s like your Dad telling you to stop talking to one of your friends and circumventing him by passing notes back and forth through a third friend. Iran is going to have a hard time preventing similar transmissions unless it completely shuts down the Iranian Web. And maybe not even then.
- For purposes of speed, it’s easier to pool everyone’s information than for one person to seek it out and report. WikiNews was in many ways a precursor to Twitter, but rather than using raw collaboration to reform the news format, WikiNews conformed their collaborations to the traditional this-is-a-news-article paradigm. There is and will still be a place for news gatherers and organizers. But this latest iteration of rapid reporting, like Twitter, will be a decentralized one.
- There is a risk of inaccurate reports, both unintentional and intentional. 140 characters is not a lot of space to fully convey a thought, let alone robustly and accurately describe a harrowing situation. Moreover, because many Twitter users are anonymous, there’s no firm way of establishing that they 1.) are who they say they are, 2.) are where they claim to be, or 3.) are seeing what they claim to be seeing. Some Tweets, regardless of the topic, are essentially a game of telephone, with important details lost as users intercede and characters are subtracted. Photographic and video evidence is one way of confirming facts asserted in Tweets, and the proliferation of consumer digital media equipment has made such confirmerations increasingly easy. But not every Tweet can be confirmed, at least not immediately. If Twitter does take off as a news platform, the next step for foes of open government will be misinformation, both to mislead and discredit. Caveat emptor.
- Thank you, free enterprise. The government didn’t make cameras, camera phones, camcorders, and other digital equipment affordable to the masses. The private sector built Twitter, YouTube, and TwitPic. It’s freedom that’s making freedom possible in Iran, despite the Administration’s apparent willingness to legitimate the Ahmadinejad government, should it survive. If the Iran regime falls, it won’t be negotiations that did it, but a freedom seeking people using the tools of freedom.
With that, I kick it over to the other Green Room commentators for their thoughts.
Updates: I’m going to add media to this post as I come across it. If you see anything on Twitter or elsewhere, note it in the comments. Or, Twitter it. I might just see it there.
Michael Totten has video of Iranian police running away from demonstrators.