Twitter and the Iranian Revolution

 

Twitter and the Iranian Revolution

 

By: Lauren Loverde

Background:

The political events that transpired during and after the 2009 Iranian election attracted an enormous amount of global attention, particularly due to social media. As an independent service for communication, Twitter became a preferred vehicle to broadcast events as they unfolded both within the country of Iran and to an international audience. [1]

During summer 2009, the world’s eyes were fixated on Iran. Questions were raised after Ahmadinejad was declared the winner over rival Mousavi in Iran’s Presidential elections. The potential tampering of ballots resulted in massive protests that engulfed the Islamic nation and caused a chain reaction of events that no one could have anticipated.

This graph shows the amount of tweets containing #iranelection and not containing it.

Iranian citizen’s erupted on Saturday, June 13, 2010, when the Iranian election results were revealed, announcing Ahmadinejad as the winner. It didn’t take long for supporters of presidential candidate Mousavi to take to the street in protest.

The protests became increasingly violent and on June 14th, Iran did its best to prevent the free flow of information from inside the struggling country to the outside world.

“Since the results of Iran’s presidential election were announced, with voting taking place on Friday (June 12, 2009) , chaos has ruled the country. Foreign correspondents have been kicked out, local media has not been allowed to report as power has been shut down, and the only place for people to turn to has been, unbelievably enough, Twitter.”Katy Burtner, Examiner.com

How Do You Communicate When All Forms Of Media Are Cut Off?

With the Iranian government quickly losing control of its citizens, it took drastic measures to ensure that the situation didn’t escalate globally. By clamping down on traditional forms of media, Iran brought the free flow of information to screeching halt.

As a country, Iran was persistent in its goal of keeping information of the protests within its borders. With access to Gmail completely restricted,  reporters and media outlets that were present inside the country were unable to communicate with the outside world. With Iran blocking the lines of communication they were essentially “trapping the media within the Iranian borders.”

Satellite interference prevented news outlets from broadcasting information out of the country. NBC News offices headquartered in Tehran, were raided by Iran’s regime with cameras and other equipment being confiscated. BBC World Service accused the Iranian government of “jamming its broadcasts.”[2] In his article on Iran’s role in the blockage of media during this time, Peter Horrocks said that “satellite technicians have traced the interference and it is coming from Iran…it seems to be part of a pattern of behavior by the Iranian authorities to limit the reporting of the aftermath of the disputed election.”[3]

If It Weren’t For Twitter…

With Iran eliminating the media’s access to conventional forms of media,  journalists turned to other social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to disperse information about the events taking place inside of Iran. The use of Twitter to communicate about these events is a striking instance where the spread of behaviors and ideas occurred entirelyonline.

Social media’s role in the Iran Election crisis started with #CNNFail, but that was only the beginning . As word began to spread about the events taking place in Iran, users of social media were outraged by the “lack of media coverage.” Twitter users began tweeting, adopting the hashtag #CNNFail to highlight a lack of Iran coverage from the news organization. Becoming a trending topic on Twitter is no small task and should not be taken lightly. In order for a topic to become “trending” it must be re-tweeted and tagged in multiple tweets.

According to an article on Mashable.com, between June 7th and June 27th there were nearly 2,024,166 tweets about Iran. #IranRevolution also became a trending topic on Twitter and close to 480,000 Twitter users joined the conversation.[4] Iran had the free flow of information under such a high level of security  that countries began to see the value of tweets coming from Iranian citizens and members of the general media.

Twitter’s role was so important in fact that the U.S. government became involved in the technical side of the site. Twitter had a scheduled system update planned during the height of the Iranian protests causing a stir among United States officials. The United States asked Twitter executives to delay the update in order to allow Iranian citizens to continue to real-time tweet about the events happening within their country. [5]

Social media played a huge part in the dissemination of information during the Iranian protests in 2009. If anything the world witnessed the importance of a social media network like Twitter and how valuable it can be in times of crisis.  There are several ways in which Twitter and social media helped to keep information coming out of Iran.

1. It has helped Iranians communicate with each other.

2. It has helped Iranians communicate with the outside world.

3. It has helped the rest of the world communicate with both Iranians and others who sympathize with the protesters.[6]

The Impact of Social Media:

Imagine what little insight the world would have had about the Iranian protests if reporters and citizens had not relied on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to disseminate information. The pieces of information that were received, and the images sent around the world broadcast a message that needed to be heard.

YouTube and Flickr brought the world photos of the protests, while Twitter and Facebook provided small pieces of information and viral videos of events as they were happening. Not only did social media  give the world the ability to see what was happening, despite Iran’s efforts to keep everything inside the country, but it also demonstrated citizen journalism at its finest.

People like Neda Soltani, who lost her life after being shot during a protest in Iran, will never be forgotten because of the viral video that was spread across various websites including Facebook and YouTube. Key moments were recorded and spread like wildfire, creating an outpouring of support for the protesters. The videos that Iranian citizens took and uploaded to the web put faces to the issue.

Resources:

Cashmore, Peter. “Staggering #IranElection Stats: 2 Million+ Total Tweets.” Mashable.com. Published: November 2009. Retrieved: November 2010. http://mashable.com/2009/07/01/iranelection-stats/

Horrocks, Peter. “Stop the Blocking Now.” BBC World News. Published: June 14, 2010. Retrieved: November 12, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2009/06/stop_the_blocking_now.html

“Twitter’s Role in the Iranian Revolution.” Published: June 16, 2009. Retrieved: November 12, 2010. http://www.politicsonline.com/blog/archives/2009/06/twitters_role_i.php

Parr, Ben. “#IranElection Crisis: A Social Media Timeline.”Published: November 2009. Retrieved: November 2010. http://mashable.com/2009/06/21/iran-election-timeline/

Parr, Ben. “Social Media’s True Impact on Haiti, China and the World.” Published: October 2009. Retrieved: December 2010.  http://mashable.com/2009/06/14/cnnfail/

Cashmore, Peter. “#CNNFail: Twitter Blasts CNN Over Iran Election.” Published: December 2009. Retrieved: December 2010.  http://mashable.com/2009/06/14/cnnfail/

Morozov, Evgeny. “Iran’s Propaganda Hits The Spinternet.” Published: December 2009. Retrieved: December 2010.  http://www.cnn.com/2009/OPINION/12/29/morozov.dicatorships.internet/index.html?iref=allsearch


Giving You A SMAC Into The Future

This is the Global SMAC! We’re working to bring you into the future of Social Media And Citizenship.

The Global SMAC has the noble goal to slice through the noise and find out just how social media has pushed us in a new direction of participation in democracy and the community. You may think social media just includes Facebook and Twitter, but you’d be wrong. Social media is everything we know and love today. It is everything from Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, to Digg, iReport and Storify. The crown for some of the most savvy usage of social media must go to Barack Obama….although Her Majesty The Queen of England did just got a Facebook.

Global SMAC’s Mission: To research, delineate, and report the information about how social media and the Internet have shaped our opinions, perceptions, and attitude on politics and community involvement.

Citizenship and democracy go hand in hand, but our view of them is being altered because of digital mediums like the Internet, specifically social media. For politicians the question is no longer, How many people can I get to my rally? It has become, How many follows can I get on Twitter? How can I spread my message to places without spending millions of dollars in TV adds? Democracy relies on the participation of its citizens to function properly. The idea of democracy has not changed, we have.

Our ideas of participation have morphed into something very different than what our founding fathers could have ever conceived. The majority of Americans have moved off of the street corner and onto the web in an attempt to support their candidates. Global SMAC will explore the reasons for this shift in participation, and how it is changing American politics.

Do we now choose our leaders based on how many people create movies and remixes of them on Youtube? Has Twitter become the “winning” factor in political campaigns? Whatever the answer it really doesn’t change the fact that social media has become a driving force behind people’s decisions regarding politics, and how the country should be run.

This “revolution” is not just in the United States, but all over the globe. More and more people are chiming in on everything dealing with Western policies, and political regimes in countries like Iran. Examples of how social media has influenced participation in world events and local ones alike are explored by our researchers. From simple case studies a clear reason for how Twitter working in the “Iranian Revolution” or how much weight Youtube had during the elections in the United States between McCain and Obama.

The data found from the research conducted by Global SMAC will either support or overthrow the ideas that have been put forth by many people. Some questions that will be answered are as follows:

1. Has social media made the public apathetic about politics and democracy?

2. Are Social network sites contributing to the conversation or masking the true problems in society?

3. Has voting been affected by social media (have more people voted because they felt empowered by social media)?

4. Do people know more information about politics and the candidates, or have they become politically polarized?

5. Has social media given people a false sense of understanding about politics and issues around the globe?

Citizenship is part of democracy, but Global SMAC is treating it as a separate entity, focusing on the individual rather than the collective outcome of whole. A simple example is a blog, or a personal web page. The internet has allowed people to develop their own personalities online, and project their voice beyond the town square and into the global conversation.

Global SMAC will explore if one person’s thoughts actually have an affect on what others do an say. Is the social media they use an effective way to deliver their message to the public, or does their voice get cut down by bigger voices like major news networks?

It is through the use of social media that many people in today’s society have been able to “voice” their opinions. Major criticisms about that often cite that almost no internet traffic goes to the majority of the public blogs. Even if that were true, does it matter? Should the value of being a citizen be measured in the amount of popularity that you have? The Global SMAC says no. Everyone has a voice, and everyone should be able to tell their story.

Global SMAC is dedicated to delivering accurate up-to-date information that is relevant to everyone living in the digital age. To learn more follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our channel on Youtube.

The Global SMAC

~Know Your Media

The Online World

Eric Ivanov