Looking Back at the Iran Uprising & Social Technology

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the Iranian presidential election that sparked the Green Revolution. In advance of the anniversary, a spate of articles have come out criticizing the excessive emphasis the media put on the role of Twitter in organizing the uprising. RFE's Golnaz Esfandiari writes in Foreign Policy that reports of a "Twitter Revolution" were massively overstated and misleading.  But, as she concludes: 

It's not that Twitter publicists of the Iranian protests haven't played a role in the events of the past year. They have. It's just not been the outsized role it's often been made out to be.

And in the Guardian, Hamid Tehrani, Persian editor of Global Voices, is quoted saying:

The west was focused not on the Iranian people but on the role of western technology. Twitter was important in publicizing what was happening, but its role was overemphasized.

Clearly, there was an awful lot of hype around the role of Twitter, which, it turns out, was used minimally for organizing and much more as a tool to bring news to the world outside Iran. But that global connectivity is, in itself, remarkable. The words, images, and videos broadcast to the world by iran's Green Revolutionthe Iranian people were far more powerful than the sanitized news reports we would have otherwise received from the few reporters allowed to stay by the government.

We're moving toward a world in which every person on earth has a direct connection to everyone else. Within Iran, SMS was used as a crucial organizing tool, and the video of Neda's death, circulated via e-mail, was recorded on a tiny cell phone camera. Twitter, YouTube, and other social media brought news beyond Iran's borders. Dictators and democrats alike will try to use these new technologies to their own benefit, but a network that diffuses organizing and communication power to the hands of every person is one that will tilt, if gently, toward freedom.

No, Twitter didn't bring democracy to Iran. As Tehrani said in the Guardian, "The cornerstone of this movement is not technology, it's people." Of course. But that technology is, ultimately, history's most potent tool to empower those people.