Update: Andrew Sullivan somehow agrees with both of us.
I was probably one of many journalists who sat up and took notice of Twitter’s amazing role in the Iranian election aftermath. Of course, you can’t give anyone credit for anything without some naysayer coming along to say “Nay,” and Slate’s Jack Shafer fills the “beat the backlash” opening in this case:
Doubting Twitter: Let’s not get carried away about its role in Iran’s demonstrations.
OK, before I get started, let me re-print my own Twitter in Iran article at the end of this one, so you can see who’s getting carried where. This will save me some time, anyway. Continue:
Now, before the millions who herald Twitter the CNN of the people, an essential tool of democracy, and a terrific tip-line for journalists hunt me down and have my Internet connection ripped out of the wall: Relax. I follow you. I’m not setting up a 140-character straw man to knock him down.
Hold on a second, isn’t saying that millions herald Twitter the CNN of the people kind of a straw man? It is. I’m sure he meant, “Besides that one.” And these:
Kevin Drum counsels in MotherJones.com that before we get weak-kneed with our paeans to the revolutionary powers of Twitter, we should all remember that genuine and huge protests in Iran predate both Twitter and the Internet.
Still looking for that headline that reads “Twitter Sparks First-Ever Protests in Iran!”
One of the sharper Twitter critics I’ve read this week is Evgeny Morozov, who, writing in Slate’s sister site ForeignPolicy.com yesterday, posed the heretical notion that tracking or blocking the tweets and blog postings by in-country Iranian protesters just might not be the regime’s top priority. “When you’ve got real riots in the street, Twitter-riots do not look that threatening,” he writes.
This completely misses the point, and actually cuts in favor of Twitter’s effectiveness. It is because the technology is so new and below-the-radar that Twitter has managed to become the only way in or out of Iran for information. Shafer goes on to say of Morozov:
In another piece, Morozov observed how Twitter had misinformed the public about the swine flu outbreak.
This is like saying that TV misinformed us about the Sham-Wow. Don’t tell anyone, but Twitter isn’t a guy who gives information. #seriesoftubes
Finally, Shafer poses this baffler, sure to stop the whole Tweeting Iran thing in its tracks:
How long before the secret police start sending out organizational tweets—”We’re massing at 7 p.m. at the Hall of the People for a march to the Hall of Justice!”—and busts everybody who shows up?
Yes, and how long before the Red Sox start stealing the Yankees’ signals? They ought to just select pitches at random.
Nobody (serious) is saying that Twitter is the next CNN, or the slayer of oppression, or a guy who gives information. Twitter is a mass communication tool with advantages and disadvantages, like any other. What makes Twitter special in Iran is this: It’s all the Iranians have.
For Shafer to demand that people stop tweeting about Iran is unconscionable.
Update: Score a big victory for Tweeps everywhere, who have succeeded in getting Twitter to delay maintenance that would have shut down communication out of Iran for at least an hour.
Almost 2 years ago, political innovator Joe Trippi tried to explain to me what the hell Twitter was, and why it was going to be “the new MySpace.” Although I had no frakkin’ idea what he was talking about, I signed up anyway. The guy never steered me wrong before.
Almost a year after that, I began to see the possibilities, and now, I routinely sign off of Twitter with a mock prayer in memory of MySpace. Twitter as a viral watercooler (that sounds gross) has, indeed, revolutionized social media with the unlikely combination of old-school elements like the telegraph and the party line.
Now, it looks like Twitter has revolutionized journalism.
With the Iranian government jamming cell phones and text messages and blocking access to many social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter has emerged as one of the mediums with the most information being passed around and discussed about the turbulent presidential election.
In addition to being a source of news, a double-edged sword that I’ll get to later, the Twitter community has protested, loudly, the lack of network coverage of the Iranian unrest. Some Tweeps astutely noted that economics played a huge part in this, as news organizations have been cutting costs by shuttering bureaus for decades. A reversal of that trend would be revolutionary, indeed.
Via Twitter, photos and videos of the killing in Iran have been disseminated where traditional media have been unable. That’s called competition, something the news networks might just respond to.
The peril, if there is one, is the reliability of the information, something I’m sure traditional journalists will point to. In this case, I say that since the Iranian government is blocking information about their repression, they are forcing us to believe what we get until we learn otherwise. There’s little risk in this, whereas the consequences of disbelief are unacceptable.
The other great thing about Twitter is that it’s a 2-way conduit. Prominent journalists like Jake Tapper are engaged with the Twitter community, and so get a direct connection with the information, which they can then follow up on. Twitter can act as a reconnaissance patrol for big media. All they have to do is put their ears to the ground.