News Travels Fast in Iran on Twitter

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I remember when, a regime could wipe out half a country and kill literally thousands of people without the rest of the world even knowing. They could create a media blackout by shutting down the television and newspapers, which the regime usually already owns anyway, and no news would escape the country’s tight lips. Unfortunately (for them), things have changed.

War has gone online using mainstream social websites for the first time in history. The recent re-election of Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has sparked widespread violence and rioting with claims of voter fraud.

Iran has always had very strict media filtering, second only to China in its scale, but after Ahmadinejad claimed victory in the most recent election, the country has gone into total lock-down.

International press have been kicked out and their visas and press passes revoked. Reformist newspapers have been suspended and the mobile network has been shut down. Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and hundreds of blogs and websites, which are usually filtered to some extent, have now also been completely shut down or blocked.

“The public and traditional media working together side-by-side to get the story out” – Nicole Johnston from Al Jazeera

Regime supporters can easily coordinate themselves with the support of local government-controlled television, radio and newspapers, while the protesters have been limited to face-to-face contact with no mass media communications.

Social media sites like Twitter have become a key resource in protest coordination and communication. Micro-blogging on Twitter in short messages (140 characters) from computers or mobile phones has proven to be extremely effective in communicating instructions and tactics to each other.

In an effort to have their voice heard, protesters are Tweeting step-by-step instructions on how to set up proxy servers enabling them to circumvent the government’s harsh Internet filters. This Twitter content is made up mostly of IP addresses, with makes it extremely difficult for the government to filter. The lightning speed of thousands of short messages has been too quick for the Iranian government to effectively smother. Savvy protestors have been able to use this technique to set up a direct connection to a friend outside the country and slip videos and information out.

As protest supporters around the world learn about the conflict in Iran, a digital attack is being launch against Iranian government websites. They are being hacked and bombarded by millions of hits in an effort to bring them down. And, it’s working.

News of the situation in Iran is updated every second by the people on the street directly to the world. A photo taken on a mobile phone can be sent out to the web instantly. By the time the authorities find it and remove it, someone in the western world has copied it and republished the story for the rest of the world.

The information monopoly can no longer be controlled, but with so much information flooding the web, not all of it is reliable. The short Tweets are unsourced, unreliable and lack context and should be consumed in conjunction with blogs and videos to gain a full understanding of the situation.

In one way the news is being diluted, but a strange phenomenon occurs when thousands of individual voices can be heard. A single opinion holds very little weight, but a thousand opinions creates a more complete picture and the wisdom of the masses begins to emerge.

Social media web sites have created an entirely new way to communicate. Never before have we shared the minutiae of our lives with strangers. Suddenly we can communicate with anyone on the planet. Within a few seconds we can find someone with the same interests and passions; ask them questions, provide help, sell them something, or just chat. All we have to do is listen in on the words that interest us.

Further Reading

Watch the Twitter conversation on the Iranian Election live here. One savvy Twitter has released a green overlay for your avatar to indicate your support for the protests. This explains the large number of green avatars. http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23IranElection

Try searching for a keyword that interests you.

A great piece on Iran from the New York Times

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