Iran Coverage on Twitter: Counter Arguments to the Online ‘Revolution’

Over the weekend, as protestors raged against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s declared victory in the Iran electon, the Web world watched events unfold online on sites like Twitter where students and activists were sending updates and pictures live from the ground. Some Twitters fueled a trending topic with the hashtag #CNNfail to call out the network for their perceived lack of coverage on the uprising. The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan, on his Daily Dish blog, aggregated tweets, pictures and YouTube videos from users chronicling attacks by Iranian police and other security forces and wrote a blog post titled “The Revolution Will Be Twittered.”

That a new information technology could be improvised for this purpose so swiftly is a sign of the times. It 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.

Many other sites praised social media as a savior during the protests. Certainly, the site has become an important news channel for its avid users and an empowering tool for citizens under strict regimes. But some bloggers have cautioned against relying on sites like Twitter to assess all of these seemingly random pieces of Iran election news and fired off counter arguments against the Twitter revolution. Here’s a roundup of the wary:

Tom Watson at “I think there are limits, especially when men and women are marching in streets patrolled by the troops of an absolutist religious dictatorship, facing soldiers’ guns in public and the noose behind the prison wall. Sure, 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. I can understand the impulse, though; after all, we (the digerati, the plugged in, the Twitterverse) are watching it unfold online. And, you know, wherever we are, well, that’s where the action is.”

Sunny Bunch at “What all of these first person missives are missing is context. I’m thrilled that the Iranian people are finally fed up with what they’ve seen from their government (and again, Andrew’s doing the lord’s work by passing all this stuff along). But it’d be really, really unwise to read too much into what’s happening before we have someone on the ground filling in the gaps who doesn’t have a vested interest in the result of this revolution.”

Ken Layne on Wonkette: “you know people probably used CB radios to report a first or whatever in 1976, but that does not mean CB radios were ever anything more than a stupid gimmick for idiots.”

Kara Swisher at All Things Digital: “Still, the media hyping of tech tools as savior is reliably annoying. Television, of course, changed the Presidential elections, of course, as radio had before that. And, more recently, weren’t mobile phone cameras critical in reporting the bombing in London’s Underground in 2005? Or wasn’t Facebook key to protests in Burma in 2008? And, even more profoundly, didn’t the simple fax machine get lauded during the uprising in China’s Tiananmen Square in Beijing as an heroic gadget? Reported Time magazine in 1989: ‘When word of the massacre in Tiananmen Square first reached the University of Michigan, the 250 Chinese students studying there jumped into action: they purchased a fax machine. Daily summaries of Western news accounts and photographs were faxed to universities, government offices, hospitals and businesses in major cities in China to provide an alternative to the government’s distorted press reports. The Chinese students traded fax numbers back home along the computer network that links them around the U.S. The fax brigades at Michigan were duplicated on many other campuses.’ Ironically, hardly anyone today uses a fax machine at all, having moved onto more effective methods of sending out critical news, data, pictures, updates and more.”

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic: “There’s plenty of misinformation out there, like rumors that Ahmadinejad is going to stage an assassination attempt, so we need to be careful about how we judge the information.  If we’re a savvy analyst, we need to be careful about the weight we attach to photographs and video accounts. They’re the most immediate and emotionally powerful, but they can distort our understanding of the situation, particularly of about the importance of specific developments.”

Andrew Sullivan on the Daily Dish: “Ambers posts some wise words about how to judge the torrent of information we and others online are bringing you. This is raw data – riveting raw data, but subject to subsequent review, analysis. Skepticism is merited. But open eyes and ears are as well.” Iran Coverage on Twitter: Counter Arguments to the Online ‘Revolution’