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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iran Twitter Revolution: Thoughts From Fifty Thousand Feet

If I step back from the fast-moving intricate tweet data that I've been staring at for many, many hours, there are a couple of things that occur to me now, and some things also occurred to me when I did the same thing during the Mumbai terrorist event:

  • You can quickly separate the geeks from the commoners. Geeks write tweets like this: "News bureau estimates 1-2 million protesters. Unconfirmed." Commoners write "OMG! BILLIONS of people rise up against the fascist Iranian government!!!!!!!!! Fight for your freedom! We're with you, Greens!!!" When I worked for an internet game company and the servers crashed, geeks would say, "The servers just crashed. Interesting." The marketing and sales people would say (as they were charging across the room to the nearest geek), "OMG! WTF! How can this be happening! You have to fix this NOW! NOW!"
  • There are always people who want to try to trick you into clicking on their links, such as the person who kept saying that Steve Jobs or "The Queen" had died. Somehow, the seriousness of the situation drowned out the tricksters. Being ignored must suck.
  • There was little to no nastiness in the millions of tweets that I read. In other words, if there were right wing American nutjobs or fundamentalist Iranian hardliners on there, they may have been lurking, but they were not trying to tweet their case. I was only following #IranElection, so maybe the arguments were happening at #Ahmadinejad. But I doubt it, because #IranElection was the highest-trending hash tag and nutjobs of any kind would be attracted to that level of possible attention like bugs to a flame.
  • When there were stupid or nasty tweets, they got lost and eventually drowned in the sea of worthy information.
  • As always, the best people bubble to the top of the pile and soon you know where to get the most reliable information.
  • You have to be patient when following a huge trend like this. Sifting through that much information takes time and analysis. You end up "feeling" the overall reality more than taking each tweet separately.
  • You can't jump to any quick conclusions or have any knee-jerk reactions. You have to watch trends ebb and flow until you know which ones are sound, and which ones are not. You have to check the source and compare one piece of information with all the other pieces you've seen before. Once you verify for yourself that a source is trustworthy, you stick to them like glue, and you watch who they talk/listen to, and stick to them too. A great example of this was when people started panic-posting that YouTube was taking videos down. Then, in the midst of hundreds of "Those bastards!" tweets, there was the sane geek voice that said, "If you have 'dead' or 'death' in your video title, they'll take it down. Just categorize the video as 'Adult" and it will not be taken down."
  • You will see old data (photos, videos, etc.) redistributed as brand new, sometimes with completely false attribution or description. If you're a journalist and haven't had the patience to watch everything from beginning to end, you won't know when this happens.
  • If you don't have anything verifiable or valuable to add to the conversation, then get the fuck out of the way. Tweeting just to stroke your own ego is annoying.
  • There is something that happens that is bigger than any one individual, bigger than any one politician, bigger than any one country. A completely spontaneous movement like this, one that is fueled by its own cohesive momentum, not organized by any one individual but collaboratively propagated of its own volition, is impossible to crush. It doesn't matter what happens in the days or weeks to come in Iran. The world has shifted on its axis, and it cannot go backwards.
  • It will probably be impossible from now on for Western politicians to depersonalize the Iranian people with derogatory labels like terrorists, jihadists, etc. Anyone who spent any time on Twitter in the last two days knows that many of the protesters are Muslims, and that is no longer a scary or bad thing. It has become crystal clear that Iranians are people, just like us. And the majority do not want nuclear war, do not want to destroy Israel, nor are they Haters of America. That was always bullshit, but now, me and you aren't the only ones who know it.
  • Speaking of Israel, I didn't see any tweets from the Iranians against Israel. Iran's supposed leaders might be spewing anti-Israel rhetoric, but I didn't see any of it amongst the real people tweeting on #IranElection.
  • There was only one MSM journalist that I observed who "got" Twitter and was actively and smartly participating with other tweeters: Jim Sciutto (ABC). He rolled up his sleeves and worked side-by-side with everyone who was closely involved.
That's all I can think of for now. I believe that Twitter's role in this event constitutes a psycho-social phenomenon. How people interact with total strangers to accomplish not only the dissemination of vital information, but also to effect a gigantic social and political change, is nothing short of amazing.

Maybe when CNN stops whining about how unfairly the Twittermass trashed their coverage (see #CNNfail), they'll start reporting on the importance of this phenomenon? Nah. Prolly not.

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