Social Media and the Iranian Protests

Iran is the third-largest blogger nation in the world (see video below), and has a particularly vibrant social media environment. So it comes as no surprise that, as the Iranian government tries to clamp down on media coverage of the unrest there, students and activists are turning to social media to bypass the regime's censorship. Andrew Sullivan wrote a very excited post today titled "The Revolution Will Be Twittered," where he exclaims that the opposition's innovative use of Twitter

...reveals in Iran what the Obama campaign revealed in the United States. You cannot stop people any longer. You cannot control them any longer. They can bypass your established media; they can broadcast to one another; they can organize as never before.

...The key force behind this is the next generation, the Millennials, who elected Obama in America and may oust Ahmadinejad in Iran. They want freedom; they are sick of lies; they enjoy life and know hope.

Social networking sites have been helpful in mobilizing and organizing protests in a rapid and distributed fashion. They have also been crucial for getting information out of Iran to the rest of the world - the first word of today's shootings broke on Twitter, where today's top hashtag is #IranElections. Check out this firsthand account from @persiankiwi, or this one from mehran751 (translated):

RT: @nima68: RT: @mehran751: 4 shooted right in front of my eyes, i think 3 are dead #iranelection

Watching the footage of protesters in Iran today, it's impossible not to be moved - it reminds me in some ways of footage from the "velvet revolution" in the Czech Republic. But while I'm a strong proponent of the power of technology to affect social and political change, I do think that Sullivan's excitement about Twitter is a bit simplistic. As Tom Watson from TechPresident points out, "Twitter (and Facebook and text messaging and blog and YouTube) can be effective information outlets for revolutionaries, but it's utterly facile to suggest that information technology is driving the currents of unrest in Iran."

It may still be a bit of a stretch to call the use of Twitter itself a "revolution." That said, the Tweets and YouTube videos (and photos, like this one from the Boston Globe depicting a Mousavi supporter helping an injured riot policeman) that are streaming out of Iran are incredibly powerful, and we will continue to watch with acute interest to see how the online resistance takes shape there.

IRAN: A Nation Of Bloggers from ayrakus on Vimeo.