SMAC’S World

Danielle Newman

The public sphere is an active network for communicating information and points of view (1). Today’s technologies have made the public sphere easily accessible to media consumers through the use of social networks over the World Wide Web. Within a social network, the user holds the power to actively aggregate information that they would like to share with other users to whom they are connected. Free speech is encouraged in this web space and often, the only user who can delete what he or she has shared, is the user him or herself, or an external party who has deemed the content inappropriate. Social networking sites do not often constitute what is true and right, but rather what the user(s) have decided to share, allowing for every user to have an equally democratic voice. Though this democratic freedom is currently somewhat contained, it has the ability to make opinion and truth difficult to distinguish between.

[In response to Howard Rheingold’s idea of net neutrality and equal access for users to edit wiki-pages]

“Express your point of view in such a way that your opponent won’t find anything to fault in it. If before communication was defined as the sharing of meaning, now social media provides a space where meaning can be assembled without being shared, and provides the mechanisms to enforce this kind of neutrality (6).”

The number one reason for a user to join a social network is because their friends have also joined (2). Further research shows that once a user has joined a social network it is extremely unlikely that they will expire their account. While users remain active on a networking site they may open a second, third, fourth…etc, account on additional networking sites, contributing with each post to the overwhelming influx of data available online. The explosion of networking has changed the way that we both receive and distribute information (7), unintentionally affecting society’s classification of an actively democratic citizen. In the past the definition was clear-cut, a democratic citizen was an activist; Someone who would give the skin off of their back to fight for their cause. However the old activist’s voice was reliant on the main stream media to be heard by a larger audience. Today, it is possible for a so-called activist to reach the public by creating low to no budget content. Take Mashable.com for instance, a website built on a community of users who surround themselves with news stories based not on validity or political interest, but on timeliness and human interest. Sites like Mashable connect to users on a personal level by sharing with them the exclusivity of the content, such as the number of times that it has been viewed or liked. An affective social media site will also allow user dialogue on the same page as the article and makes it easy to spread the content via other networks. As communities and blog spaces continue to expand online, arguments ensue whether digital activism should measure up to the real face to face activism that our society is familiar with.

Social Networking has the ability to affect global dialogue by exploring issues that the mainstream media may have skimmed over. For instance, while the nightly news and local newspapers report on war, terror and taxes, independent bloggers and tweeters are sharing new up to date messages on issues that may have otherwise gone unreported. At first, these messages may have only reached a niche group of followers, however there is a new potential for greater outreach and popularity growth online. New technologies such as Twitter, have made it easier than ever to become a part of a niche group. Revolutionary software such as Google Translate, have made sources from around the world instantly available to non native speakers in virtually any language. Video sharing has given all citizens of the world with access to the internet, the chance to see groundbreaking tragedy on the other side of the globe, or a cute cat video,  with their own two eyes. However, if a story receives enough attention, no matter the subject, it has the ability to be picked up by the mainstream media, encouraging the voice of the people to speak up. The expanding use of social medias has enabled the rise of Citizen Journalism, opening a gateway for users around the world to connect with users in another country, within their own country or better yet, with the press.

“The distinction between producers and consumers in a digital content environment is increasingly blurred. The digital content industry must not stop at the level of the firm but must extend to the individual (3).”

In comparison to other mediums such as television and radio, Social Media and the World Wide Web allows for users to become better connected with stories in their own geographical location and on the other side of the world (6). Interactive social networks also allow users to prioritize which “type” of issues they would like to receive information about, and to customize their preferences so that their intake suits their interests. These customizations may also be used to attract passive networker’s to content with content which suits theirs interests but that they may not have discovered otherwise.

“The fact that the mass of individuals may not coordinate their actions collectively or classify them as civic engagement does not decrease the civic significance of their actions (4).”

Aside from active engagement, passive engagement on social networks can still help to foster a community and gain recognition. For instance, not every user who watches a YouTube video leaves a comment or uploads their own videos, in fact many do not even have an account. However by watching a video on YouTube you are increasing the number of views for that video by at least 1 play, adding to its popularity. Similarly, becoming a fan of something on Facebook may not lead the user to make a donation to that specific cause, however, minimal participation becomes public to other users on the site, enabling the spread of a message or campaign. If the number one reason why people join Social Networks is because their friends are doing it, think of how many people will “fan” or “like” a topic that their friends like. By making our likes and interests public, we are welcoming content based on a system of trust. For example, if a friend shares a link on your wall, you will most likely click it because it came from a person who you have invited into your social space.

“A September 19, 2007 comScore report revealed that in July 2007, viewers watched 2.4 billion videos on YouTube. The report indicated that 75% of U.S. Internet users watched online videos that month, for a total of 9 billion video streams. Average viewers spent 181 minutes watching online videos during the month (5).”

Immediacy is a key point when considering Democracy and Social Medias. In countries where free speech is not protected it is often exercised online. Twitter , Youtube and other popular networks have allowed for citizens to ban together to get their first taste of Democracy, exposing the cruelties of government and war to outside countries. However, in an effort to dismantle the cross of political swords, more frequently than not, content will be removed shortly after it is uploaded, cited as “no longer available” or better yet, “not available in your country”. However, thanks to the free nature of the Internet, a person with a powerful message has more resources today than ever before to build a platform of beliefs online and to have their voice heard by billions of people. Today, the right story can “go viral” within seconds, accumulating popularity and high volumes of peer-to-peer views. Peer-to-peer views and the level of trust and comfort which we as a society have built around the internet, could very well be the launching pad that blurs the line between the public figure who we read about in the news, and the private figures like you and me. Perhaps, in the future, we will all be public figures and equally credible contributors on the internet. As we continue to expand our global dialogue via the World Wide Web, it is unforeseen whether we will reach a point where there are too many untold stories and not enough actively democratic citizens. Or perhaps we will continue to prosper in our own social networks, continuing to decide for ourselves which information on the internet is important.

 

Resources:

(1)  Fleming, Ted: “Habermas, Democracy and Civil Society”, page 360.

(2)  www.Alexa.com

(3)  Bruns, Axel (2005) ‘‘Anyone Can Edit’: Understanding the Producer.’ The Mojtaba Saminejad Lecture.

(4)  Putnam, Robert D. (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York, Simon & Schuster.

(5)  Deuze, Mark (2006) ‘Participation, Remediation, Bricolage: Considering Principal Components of a Digital Culture.’ The Information Society, 22(2): 63-75.

(6)  http://blog.ulisesmejias.com/2006/07/20/social-media-and-the-networked-public-sphere/

(7)  Shirky, Clay (2008) “Here Comes Everybody”.  The Penguin Press. New York, New York 10014.


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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