Earthquakes, Iranian Protests, Twitter, and the Media

A little over a year ago there was a bunch of hub-bub about how Twitter “reported” the SoCal earthquake about 9 minutes before the AP story went out.

That was a lousy frame for understanding what Twitter is and what it does.

When people years from now look back for the a-ha moment where they got citizen microreporting, they will likely remember the Iranian election protests. With bandwidth throttled, and the state tightly controlling traditional media access, those involved with the protests are reporting what they see through Twitter. I’ve followed a bunch of the protestors and here is what has come out in the last four minutes:

StopAhmadi Mousavi: “they were not brought for potatoes” = Ahmadinejad bribed ppl in pre-election w/ potatoes in villages
1 minute ago from Seesmic Desktop

Bahram81 UN secretory general asked IR gov. to respect people’s will #iranelection
1 minute ago from web

madyar Dispersed fights in Tehran; sound of shooting heard #IranElection
1 minute ago from web

StopAhmadi Mousavi: “these masses were not brought by bus or by threat. they were not brought for potatoes.they came themselves”
1 minute ago from Seesmic Desktop

Bahram81 people chanting “don’t fear, we are all together” #iranelection
2 minutes ago from web

Bahram81 BBC Persian doubling its daily broadcast time #iranelection
3 minutes ago from web

parhamdoustdar People being surrounded in Shiraz and Rasht. Fights have broken out in Shiraz. #IranElection
3 minutes ago from mobile web

Bahram81 A hypothesis,in case regime wants to backtrack this farce, Ahmadinejad could b sentenced similarly if he’s “trown under d bus” #iranelection
4 minutes ago from web

iranbaan ??????? ??? ??????? ????? ?????? ???? ???? ???? ???
4 minutes ago from web

I don’t know the veracity of these claims (and make no claim to knowing the truth of the Iranian election). But I do know that this is the frame that is useful for understanding Twitter microreporting: that it subverts traditional authority, routes around censorship, and allows people to organize and to inform each other in a non-hierarchical emergent way.

It’s not that traditional media can’t do that as fast, but that traditional media isn’t about doing that at all.

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