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The Revolution Will Not be Tweeted
June 10, 2010 7:08 AM   Subscribe

Remember all the enthusiastic press coverage about the all-important role Twitter played in helping to organize Iranian activists on the ground during the protests that sparked the Green Movement after the last Iranian elections? (Discussed previously here, here and here on the blue.) Some in the press even dubbed this period "Iran's Twitter Revolution". Think again, Golnaz Esfandiari argues in Foreign Policy's latest installment in its "Misreading Tehran" series, because "Simply put: There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran."
posted by saulgoodman (31 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
interesting.
posted by infini at 7:22 AM on June 10, 2010


Meanwhile, Twitter screws with its users and partners again.
posted by boo_radley at 7:23 AM on June 10, 2010


I'm glad to read such a thoughtful piece, even if it took a year. The most astonishing bit for me is the claim that Tehran's mobile network was entirely shut down during the protests. If that's true, how did the US media at the time not know it and not report it? I guess it shouldn't surprise me anymore than journalists write the story they have in mind rather than what's actually happening.

I wonder how many Americans still have their little Twitter icon shaded a sickly green?
posted by Nelson at 7:31 AM on June 10, 2010


Hopefully surprising no one.

I ran an open TOR endpoint during that, because, you know, they said that's how Iran was using it. I didn't have a single hit to Twitter from anybody. And then I had to dip my DSL modem in bleach afterwards.

Oh, the humanity.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:43 AM on June 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's important to keep this in mind pretty much whenever anyone talks about how the Internet is revolutionizing communication.

The truth is, in many developing countries communication is already far more open than it is in the US. I think years of passive information gathering (from the TV) and one-to-one communication (through the phone) made us forget that communication and information sharing historically was very interactive and many-to-many. Basically, groups of people talking.

I don't have any actual stats to back this up but I do remember reading here and there that the US overall has waaay more trust in the news coming from the media than in other countries. We sneer at the propaganda coming from government-owned media in totalitarian countries, discounting that most of the people there have long learned to give no credit to it and instead get their news from a network of humans.

Granted, the Internet makes it much easier to spread information, and to spread it widely. But that information tends to come from -- and pool in -- clusters of privilege. True, it's much cheaper now to have this information edge than it was in the past. But it still requires reading literacy, computer literacy, and regular access to a computer. Here, it's natural to go to Google first whenever you want to know about something. But in other contexts, it's faster and better to ask another human.

This is true even in the developing world. My mother in law, bless her heart*, has simply decided not to use computers for her day to day life. She checks her e-mail of course and looks up a few things online, but on the whole, her knowledge management system is all analogue: filing systems, folders filled with articles and recipes, and a wide-reaching human network. When I need to know something, I know all the tricks to make a Google query. When she needs to know something, she knows exactly who to call. Whose information methods are better?

* In the good way, not the bad way. She, born and raised in the south, can toss off a "bless his heart" as sharp and lethal as a ninja throwing star.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:46 AM on June 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Didn't Twitter defer some maintenance because of this? At the request of the state department? How does that fit in? I could be misremembering something.
posted by Pants! at 7:53 AM on June 10, 2010


Didn't Twitter defer some maintenance because of this? At the request of the state department? How does that fit in? I could be misremembering something.

That's discussed in the article.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:54 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I see that it's mentioned in the second paragraph, but not discussed with any detail. Perhaps I'm missing it somewhere else, though.

My point was not very clear above, but why would Twitter do this if their Iran activity was very low?
posted by Pants! at 8:19 AM on June 10, 2010


Interesting. I believed it at the time, mostly because my inner utopian technocrat wanted to. I would like to see how Iranians actually did use technology outside of Twitter, what was most effective, etc.
posted by codacorolla at 8:26 AM on June 10, 2010


When I need to know something, I know all the tricks to make a Google query. When she needs to know something, she knows exactly who to call. Whose information methods are better?

Yours, clearly, unless she can call 1 billion people in 4 tenths of a second.

I see what you're going for, but "old fashioned ways are best" simply does not work, or even translate, for information. Perhaps you would rather wait 2 weeks for your newspaper to arrive from back east on the train?

Mom's phone tree might yield some very dependable results for some very narrow requests, like finding a great apple pie recipe, but would also yield "no data" for the vast, VAST majority of requests.
posted by discountfortunecookie at 9:03 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


unless you "mommified" your websurfing experience
posted by infini at 9:17 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I see that it's mentioned in the second paragraph, but not discussed with any detail. Perhaps I'm missing it somewhere else, though.

Ah, I'm with you now. Good questions.

Maybe the State Department felt it in the nation's interests to overstate Twitter's role in events in order to highlight yet another timely example of how free market innovation can serve the public interest. Or maybe they wanted to give Twitter some free publicity to encourage wider-spread adoption of the technology and promote a domestic business venture. Or maybe the State Department just bought into all the hype, too, and wanted to show America it was still hip.

Quoth the Tootsie Roll owl: The world may never know.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:19 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yo momma so old-fashioned, she yield no data for the vast majority of requests.
posted by Phanx at 9:23 AM on June 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


This confirms what I already believe: Twitter has no value.
Unless someone can point out something I'm missing from the twittles twisitis toots??
posted by wcfields at 9:59 AM on June 10, 2010


Of course, you could look at what Twitter themselves posted about the delayed maintenance during the height of the Iran event.
posted by Nelson at 10:03 AM on June 10, 2010


Really interesting. I followed the "twitter revolution" closely, and it seemed clear that most of the english-language tweeting was designed to get the world's attention, not to co-ordinate people on the ground in Iran. I do remember hearing at the time (via Twitter, of course) that the cell network had been disabled at various times during the protests.

The primary use of Twitter has been to get info out of the country, and that seemed to have worked.
posted by cell divide at 10:15 AM on June 10, 2010


The primary use of Twitter has been to get info out of the country help Americans masturbate for themselves live on the internet, so as to think they're helping somebody and being part of something important, and that seemed to have worked.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:39 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course, you could look at what Twitter themselves posted about the delayed maintenance during the height of the Iran event.

Well, lessee, what exactly did Twitter say about it? Oh, right. Here it is:

However, our network partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran.

...Which is specifically what the author argues his own investigation into these claims debunks in the article we're discussing here.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:01 AM on June 10, 2010


if twitter was such a hotshot how come they missed the real story in haiti?
posted by infini at 11:10 AM on June 10, 2010


help Americans masturbate for themselves live on the internet

Not sure if people really needed help doing that.

Also not sure exactly what you're mocking. Opponents of the regime in Iran wanted the world to hear their story, the state media was on lockdown and the best available channels were social media. Whether or not some people whipped themselves into a frenzy thinking they were part of an online revolution is, to me, the sideshow.
posted by cell divide at 11:17 AM on June 10, 2010


thanks for posting this saulgoodman.

i read this a few days ago and then went on to read the rest of the series it's a part of. pretty great stuff and i'd handily recommend the series to everyone who wants some insight into iran/tehran.

and do be sure to check the comments; some of them are fascinating.
posted by artof.mulata at 2:08 PM on June 10, 2010


I find it absolutely shocking that the importance of twitter (or ANY web 2.0 technology) was overstated. Shocking!
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:15 PM on June 10, 2010


Thanks so much for posting this excellent article. I was dismayed by the circle jerk that sufficed for coverage of the protests by many media outlets (and I include bloggers in that category). Americans viewed the protest through their own self-congratulatory notions about mass activism, media, technology, and the character of revolutions (Andrew Sullivan, for example, spent a blog post mulling over whether the Iranian revolution was more like the American or the French revolution, as if everything that happens in any other country has to adhere to familiar -- and Western -- models. Commentators vastly understated the social, cultural, and political distinctions between Tehran and the rest of Iran, and never considered that Ahmadinejad might have resorted to fraud but still would have won the election.

The blithe hyperventilation about Twitter was one element of this. There was little critical analysis about the use of Twitter as a source of erroneous information and disinformation, about the relationship between Tweeters and actual participants, or about Twitter's actual impact on the people who were on the ground. The treatment of Twitter also reflected the frequent tendency to see new media as inherently advancing the cause of democracy and liberation. In the meantime, the Iranian government was busy posting photos of demonstrators on the web and using crowdsourcing to identify them.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:15 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]












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