People make revolutions

I wrote before about the dangers of over-playing the significance of the web in Iran. It’s hard not to moved, though, by this Iranian blogger:

I will take part in the rally tomorrow. It might become violent. Perhaps I may be one of the people who is meant to die. I am listening to all the beautiful songs that I’ve ever heard before”¦. I always wanted to thin out my eyebrows”¦ I am looking through all my family photo albums from the start. I have to call my friends and say goodbye. I just have two bookshelves full of books to my name in this world; I have told my family who to give them to. I have two units to go before I get my degree, but the hell with that”¦ I just wrote these scattered sentences so that the next generation knows that we weren’t irrational and emotional. So that they know we did what we could to make our lives better”¦ but we refused to give in to oppression.

A number of leading American analysts are challenging the Twitter/Blogging Revolution thesis (including a reference to my book, The Blogging Revolution, in this Foreign Affairs blog).

One of the best writers on the subject, Ethan Zuckerman, concludes that the Western media should not be presuming the internet is causing revolution in the Islamic Republic:

– Social media is probably more important as a tool to share the protests with the rest of the world than it is as an organizing tool on the ground.
– Iranians have been accessing social networking sites and blogging platforms despite years of filtering – there’s a cadre of folks who understand how to get around these blocks and are probably teaching others.
– Because so many Iranians use social media tools – often to talk about topics other than politics – they’re a “latent community” that can come to life and have political influence when events on the ground dictate…

One of the reasons MSM outlets are so focused on social media is that they’re not able to deploy reporters to cover these protests. In some cases, the majority of reporting from the ground is coming from social media. It’s worth asking what the biases might be in amplifying those social media reports. Ahmedinejad’s supporters tend to be poorer, more rural, less educated and more likely to speak Farsi than Mousavi’s supporters – a picture of the protests via social media runs the danger of overstating Mousavi support or minimizing Ahmedinejad support.

This Christian Science Monitor piece contains a decent amount of skepticism (despite the headline).

Evgeny Morozov writes a fascinating post on Foreign Policy about the State Department’s relationship with Twitter during the supposed Green Revolution in Iran:

Let me be my usual cynical self and try to speculate on the real reasons behind the State Department’s request to Twitter to delay maintenance.

The widely-accepted narrative goes like this: the State Department officials realized the importance of Twitter to Iranian protests and at some point on Monday afternoon got in touch with Twitter’s executives and asked them to delay maintenance; the company complied and kept the Iranians, Americans, and everyone else with nothing else to do during this revolution tweeting. Bravo, American diplomats: you are all on the cutting-edge of innovation.

This unusual outreach from the State Department has now emerged as one of the arguments for why Twitter has been influential in Iran; if American diplomats think it’s important to keep Twitter alive, it must by all means be very important – even if few people can actually see or prove why.

I kid you not, what follows is a quote from a New York Times article: the delay in Twitter’s maintenance reveals “the recognition by the United States government that an Internet blogging service that did not exist four years ago has the potential to change history in an ancient Islamic country”. If only life was that simple, my dear friends at the New York Times: blogging services do not change history, not even if the State Department asks them; people do. Moreover, I am increasingly skeptical of the State Department’s own ability to change history – or at least, to change it for the better, but let’s save it for another post.

I am just trying to second guess the logic of those who have reported on the State Department’s intervention have relied upon. Was it something like “well, we don’t know anything about Twitter’s real impact, but the State Department thinks it’s influentila, and it must certainly be so then; remember, we are journalists, we don’t have to dig any deeper”.

Does anyone else find it extremely fishy? Since when the decisions by the State Department – not exactly the hotbed of new media innovation – are representative of anything?

Believe in real freedom and democracy in Iran and not spurious Western journalism with little clue about how repressive regimes truly operate.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

Site by Common