Social media shining in Iranian conflict

Ronny Kerr · June 22, 2009 · Short URL:

Traditional news outlets bow to instantaneity of Twitter and other online giants

Massive demonstrations and protests questioning the fairness of the Iranian presidential election held ten days ago have been rocking Iran’s capital, Tehran, for over a week now. And if popular social media sites like Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist, the rest of the world might have still been in the dark.

With new reports rising everyday echoing stories like CNN’s article yesterday announcing the detainment of a Newsweek journalist “without charge,” politicians and citizens of every nation faced the possibility that breaking news from Iran would be sucked into a black hole of censorship, courtesy of the Iranian government.

But as successful as the government has been in censoring traditional forms of media, it is still struggling with the power of Web 2.0 technology.

 A quick search of Twitter’s site for the hashtag #IranElection (Twitter’s format for grouping topics) reveals a mountain of thousands of tweets from users all over the world engaged in a never-ending conversation concerning the events taking place in Iran every moment. Consistently the most popular trend on Twitter for the last few days, #IranElection just keeps growing: If you leave the page open for just a few seconds, you will likely be prompted to refresh the page to see tons of new tweets just recently posted.

Most users simply retweet the latest news, those with hard evidence and those without. Some users link to videos on YouTube and other video hosting sites, vividly exhibiting the nature of interaction between protestors and authorities. And many users, with their avatars tinted green in solidarity with the protesters, merely offer their sympathy and support for the citizens of a country in turmoil.

Twitter, of course, is not alone. YouTube and Flickr are constantly being flooded with videos and photos, respectively, to be shared many times over through friend and family networks on Facebook, where a page has been specifically set up to inform the world daily.

Even Google has declared its support for alternative ways of information transfer, alongside their announcement Thursday that they have added Persian (Farsi) support to the long list of languages enabled for Google Translate, a tool that translates websites: “We feel that launching Persian is particularly important now, given ongoing events in Iran. Like YouTube and other services, Google Translate is one more tool that Persian speakers can use to communicate directly to the world, and vice versa — increasing everyone's access to information.”

At the end of the day, it is the interaction between all the various sites that makes the whole so immensely powerful. According to the NY Daily News, one of the most talked-about videos to emerge from the protests--one depicting clearly and tragically the death of a young woman--started on Facebook. It quickly spread to YouTube and many other video hosting sites and it is now repeatedly referred to on Twitter posts.

As Franz Och writes in the above Google Blog post, “The web provides many new channels of communication that enable us to see events unfold in real-time around the world.” It is distinctly the fluid interaction between these channels that is making social media an unstoppable force.

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