I've been reading some of the news coming out of Iran via Twitter. It’s compelling stuff and it explodes the notion that Twitter is purely a gigantic exercise in narcissism
With the Iranian regime cracking down on the mainstream corporate media Iranian protesters are using internet sites like Twitter to get information out to the world - and to organise protests.
Opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, for example, has been using his public profile page on Facebook to coordinate protest activity.
The Revolutionary Guard in Iran is taking it seriously. Last week it was reported the Revolutionary Guard warned that protesters using internet sites like Twitter would be subject to retribution. But. then again, anyone doing anything contrary to the wishes of the Iranian government is probably open to retribution.
"The revolution may not be televised in Iran but it may well be tweeted," is how one Twitter user said last week. This remark was splashed all around the corporate media this week.
We supposedly have a 'Twitter Revolution' according to publications like The Nation and the Washington Times.
I think this is overstating the case for the importance of Twitter.
What is happening in Iran today is not a 'Twitter revolution'. This is a grassroots movement for change, and we downplay its importance by labelling it a 'revolution' somehow being coordinated through a website based in the United States.
Certainly Twitter is a useful organisational tool but it’s not the only tool in the toolbox.
Other organisational tools of the cyberspace and technological variety range from sites like Facebook to the mobile phone and email. Indeed common sense tells us that the first thing that anyone does if they want to organise an event is to send a text message to everybody in their address book via their mobile phone. But we’re not calling it ‘Iran’s Mobile Phone revolution’ are we?
Focusing on the role Twitter is playing in the events unfolding in Iran deflects attention away from the largest protests seen in Iran since the 1970s.
It also arrogantly ignores the fact that all the political forces in Iran – government and opposition – have huge on-the-ground networks they can tap into at anytime. These networks are far more important than anything Twitter and other social networking websites can provide.
Twitter is a useful tool, especially in a situation where a government is trying to shutdown dissenting voices, but it is not the ‘leader’ of a movement for change.
Don’t believe the hype.
NB A good 'Tweeter' to check out is Tehran Bureau. The Iranian authorities shut down his website some days ago but he has since been posting short messages on Twitter.