Friday, June 26, 2009

Twitter Silliness


With advance apologies to my colleagues whose job it is to spread the Good Word about social networking services to yet-benighted duchies and baronies within the federal government:

A strange-bedfellows combination of public diplomats, bloggers and assorted techies has been frothing since Iran-election protesters apparently used Twitter to both organize gatherings and appeal to the outside world for help. For a few days it appeared (in Western media accounts) that all Iran was tweeting when it wasn’t being kicked and beaten.

And yet, Twitter has really changed nothing except to lightly augment accounts of election-related disputes and rioting—and it enjoys that prominent role only because there have been few alternatives, what with Iran’s idled Internet and cell-phone networks and its lack of Western reporters.

As Noam Cohen pointed out in last Sunday’s Times, only a relatively small number of Iranians apparently used Twitter to organize protests; Iran is still primarily a word-of-mouth country rather than a texting or an Internet country.

And Twitter has other problems, among them that it’s so easy to use that pro-government forces use it themselves to spoof protest organizers and disseminate propaganda. Not to mention that those tweeting almost always lack training as observers or journalists; they’re just people who are frightened or angry and liable to write whatever they’re thinking at the moment—which is precisely what Twitter was designed for.

If anything, YouTube should be given credit for getting Iranian civilian videos of thug violence out of Iran, rallying world opinion in a visceral fashion that 140 dry characters cannot. In fact YouTube is choked with videos of baseej violence, and nothing has changed because of them, either.

Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei continue to move all the levers of power, speculation about Moussavi’s and Rafsanjani’s whereabouts and intentions notwithstanding. After some initial restraint, the Tehran government has deployed its knee-breakers in earnest to lock down both the capital and the provinces, and they appear to be succeeding.

As someone pointed out in the quaint, analog world of radio here in D.C. today, the first street protests against the Shah started in 1977 but didn’t reach critical mass until 1979.

My advice to Twitterers: Wait a couple of years to see whether #Revolution occurs, then a decade or so after that for everyone to write their books, before anyone proclaims that Twitter has come of age.

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