In June, 2009, incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the victor of a controversial and hotly disputed presidential election. Supporters of reformist challenger to Ahmadinejad, Mir Hossein Mousavi, entered the streets in protest–on June 15 millions marched–clad in green, in silence, carrying placards asking simply, “Where is my vote?”
Peaceful Iranian protesters were violently repressed in brutal crackdowns by the Islamic Republic’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Basij volunteer paramilitary forces, paid government vigilantes and mercenaries. The foreign mainstream media were kicked out of the country. Many were killed and many more were arrested. The repercussions are still playing out in Iran today.
While this was going on last year, one place became the first and only place to go to while the mainstream media were either incapable of getting the news from Iran or asleep at the wheel:
By following the #IranElection hashtag (among several others), one could follow the events as they were unfolding.
Via Twitter, we witnessed a phenomenon never seen before. A combination of technologies were used–quite spontaneously–by Iranians inside and outside of Iran to get the story of what was happening there to the world from the perspective of Iranians on the ground who were participating in the protests. Many of the protesters used their cellphones to film what was going on. These videos were shared and rapidly disseminated via Twitter.
Twitter is a vast echo chamber. As the videos and accounts of events in Iran were being posted, other Twitter users noticed the tweets and started sharing (retweeting) them. This caused the hashtag #IranElection to start ranking at the top of Twitter’s trending list, thereby exposing what was going on to everyone in the entire Twitter universe.
The effect was profound. Eventually the mainstream media caught on and they covered the story relatively well right up until Michael Jackson passed away, virtually bumping Iran out of the mainstream news. But the stories kept coming, and continue to do so to this day, via Twitter.
In January, Josh Shahryar wrote an excellent piece on the Twitter Revolution, well worth the read: Twitter Revolution 101: Get Your Facts Right.
In addition to the article itself, the comments below it are well worth the read as well. In particular, I believe the following comment really captures what the term “Twitter Revolution” means and refers to:
Connie USA says:
January 7, 2010 at 19:31
I was in Stratford-upon-Avon on 12 June. I was following the election in Iran on Sky News. When I woke up on 13 June, I turned on the news and heard Ahmadinejad had won the election with 63% of the vote.
Flying back to the States that day, I mentioned to one of our pilots (I’m a flight attendant) that I wasn’t surprised at all with the election result. I said this as someone who actually has quite an interest in geopolitics.
When I arrived home around 6PM EST, I logged into Twitter. I saw #iranelection trending, clicked, and what happened changed my life forever.
That first weekend in the wake of the June election not only opened my eyes to this whole other Iran, an Iran I could relate to as a freedom-loving American, but it also illuminated the failings of the mainstream media in the West, who kept insisting that weekend that the Internet was down in Iran and that there was no Facebook or Twitter access there.
Because of Iranians on Twitter and Facebook showing me this “other Iran,” my heart and mind has been changed. A year ago, if someone would have said, “we are going to bomb Iran,” I would have shrugged my shoulders. Now, the mere mention of Iran being bombed clutches my heart, and I silently plead, “don’t bomb my friends!”
Because of Twitter, I participated in the protest against Ahmadinejad at the UN in Sept. Because of Twitter, I participated in the Green Scroll across Brooklyn Bridge. Because of Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, I was able to put pics and vids online do Iranians could see our support of their efforts. Because of Facebook, I attended a fundraiser in London for Amnesty to benefit their efforts in Iran. Because of Twitter and Facebook, I came up with the idea for a fundraiser to help Iranian journalists/bloggers who have fled Itan and are seeking assistance from Reporters Without Borders.
To belittle or demean the power of social media to facillitate change is simply ignorant. #iranelection has certainly changed me.
Apologies for any typos in my comments, hard to post this on iPhone,
That about explains it.
And Iran isn’t the only revolution or major event that was tweeted. Anti-government protests in Thailand and Greece, protests against the G20 summit in Toronto, the earthquake in Haiti, and many other other instances in which news was happening in real-time were reported on via Twitter, by the people who were there, witnessing the events in realtime.
Not only are people capturing events as they occur and reporting on them before traditional outlets of information and news, but the context and substance of the reports are also qualitatively different than those of the mainstream outlets. Unhindered by the rules of traditional journalists, people post what they experience and how the feel about it on Twitter, without self-imposed restrictions. The ecosystem of Twitter users sharing news and information, talking about, adding context to, opinions on, and anecdotes about these news items and information provides one of the richest ways to learn about what’s happening in the world. Over time one can identify sources that provide the most reliable information.
Once hooked, it is very difficult to turn back.
The Twitter Revolution is a revolution in the way information is shared and consumed. As the comment in Josh Shahryar’s piece shows, it has the power to make people take action. And in this way, it is already changing the world.