Two short points on Iran and Twitter

1. My enthusiasm that new technology is allowing Iranians an additional tool for dissent is tempered by the fact that so many people reading the tweets from there seem to have fallen in into an uncritical mode in their reading of them. Suddenly everyone is an expert and it has been decided the election was stolen. And of course, Something Must Be Done.

New media production meets old media psychology. That’s a mixed bag.

2. An AP article yesterday ends with this:

Gaurav Mishra, the 2008-09 Yahoo Fellow at Georgetown University, said he hasn’t seen any evidence in past events such as the Moldova elections that Twitter was the dominant way people are organizing.

“It’s sometimes difficult to differentiate the hype from the media,” he said. “Just because people are tweeting about something doesn’t mean that there’s actually coordination involved.”

I think that’s a bit of an odd distinction. I don’t think the point is to say that Twitter is how they are getting so many people to their protests, or that there is some sci-fi “Wait, Third Street is unsafe, go to Tenth!” thing happening.

The point of the protests and the twittering are parallel, not hierarchal. Both the protests and the electronic activity aim to set the public narrative, in and out of the country. That’s why most of the accounts were created recently, that’s why so many are posting in English — these are accounts created specifically to try and fight any frame that activity in Iran is settling down, that the rallies are dwindling, that the government violence is minimal. They aren’t necessarily people using their normal accounts, they are very conscious activists.

It’s part of an ecosystem — to the extent that the public narrative is one of momentum, the protests will keep happening, even in the face of violence, and the government will feel the pressure. To the extent Iran feels the world is the audience as well as the current regime, the protests will keep happening, etc., etc. These things feed each other, but not necessarily in the pattern digital utopians would prefer.

Will there be Twitter fraud? People twittering eyewitness accounts from 5,000 miles away? Well, absolutely. I’m sure there are some fakes in there. If there is an election at stake and you think there will be qualms about faking an eyewitness report, you’re less cynical than I. A lot less cynical.

So it is synergistic, but not in the futurist way some would want. I’m not quite sure why we assume our digital utopia is free of political motivation and deception and spin. The point is not that those things are eliminated, but that they are de-institutionalized. And people should read accordingly.

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