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


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