I remember taking an ethnography class as an undergrad about the social, cultural, and political revolutions that happened in the Soviet block in the 80’s and 90’s. We discussed topics like how news was disseminated and how there was a massive identity shift. It seems as if this weekend, I saw something similar but not what was traditionally found on television, traditional media, or in a classroom. For the first time in a I witnessed a massive revolution on the Internet.
If you’ve happen to be living in a cave for the last several days let me summarize in a few sentences what I’m talking about. Iran held elections last Friday. The votes were counted at an alarming quick rate, and the incumbent, Ahmadninejad was proclaimed the winner. This immediately outraged Iranians, as they swarmed to the booths in unprecedented numbers to vote — most saying they’ve voted for Mousavi, a reformist. Immediately they took the internet, to voice their concerns and disapproval.
And here’s where the revolution began.
Videos of demonstrations were uploaded to YouTube. Photos to Flickr, TwitPic, and the like. Groups and events were organized on Facebook. Short updates were announced on Twitter. Those that didn’t partake in demonstrations posted to their blogs and news spread like wild fire. Photos and video clips from cell phones functioned as our eyes as the Islamic Republic began preventing foreign official press from filming and documenting the protests. I heard from family back in Tehran that these sites were quickly blocked by the government firewalls, but fellow freedom seekers outside of Iran setup proxy servers and SSH tunnels and tweeted about it. Outsiders began DDOS’ing the Islamic Republic news sites to prevent them from spreading propaganda.
I have no idea if the protests in Iran will spark a political revolution. If it does, it will be unlike the 1979 Islamic revolution which was lead by an exiled leader at the time. These current protests are internally lead.
The revolution I am speaking about is not particularly about Islamic Republic but rather on the failures of traditional media and the identify shift observed. Twenty years ago the public relied on CNN to cover news on Tienanmen Square. We were consumers then. But CNN has more or less failed in coverage, leading to the great #CNNFail hashtag on Twitter. Where news and media couldn’t logistically cover news, citizen journalists did.
Have we come to understand our new roles and responsibilities as members of this interconnected world… to communicate, share and sympathize?
I hope so.
I’m excited about this shift. As you may know, I am pretty deeply integrated in social media sites, like Digg, Flickr, YouTube, etc. I have been registered Twitter user for a couple years now. Up until this weekend, I have used it to mirror my favorite items from my RSS reader. Now have I come to understand the power & purpose of Twitter #iranelection.
EDIT 8:30PM Pacific Time: The New York Times has just written a very similarly inspired article titled, “Social Networks Spread Iranian Defiance Online.” Check it out!