Social Media and the Iran Protests
Iran held their presidential elections on Friday June 12. Late that evening, the current President Ahmadinejad was declared the winner. His rival Mousavi called the results a “charade” and on June 13, thousands of protesters took to the street.
That Saturday June 13, I was sitting in Rome, Italy. Thousands of miles away from Tehran. I was writing an article about social media, when I saw tweets coming in from people in Tehran. At first, they twittered simple messages as “It looks like people are coming onto the streets, protesting”. Soon, they tweeted links to YouTube videos they took with their mobile phones.
I scanned the mainstream media. CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera,.. I did Google News searches for “Iran Protests”… No reports.
By noon time, there were that many tweets coming in from Iran, the “#iranelection” tag shot to Twitter’s hall of fame. Still nothing on CNN, BBC,… I started a new post. The first line read “Something’s brewing in Iran and people are reporting”.
Here is a slightly edited version of my original post, written on the first day of the protests. I repost it on BlogTips as it shows the power of social media.
Social media buzzing after the Iran elections (June 13th)
As violence broke out, the mobile phone network was switched off for hours and Internet connectivity was either interrupted or slow at least. Still, in what seems to become a school example of crowdsourced reporting at its best, individuals got their messages out through different social media channels.
Twitter is abuzz with on-the-ground reports directly from Iran by @madyar, @mohamadreza and @IranRiggedElect to name a few. Many of the tweets contain direct updates, local news, eyewitness reports, and pictures directly posted on Twitpic way before the mainstream media picked up.
New “special occasion” Twitter accounts like @Change_for_Iran got 4,000 followers in the first 12 hours.
Even foreign correspondents like @thomas_erdbrink (who deleted his account), ABC correspondents Jim Sciutto and @LaraABCNews resort to Twitter when they can not get their official messages out, and to assemble information.
Tweets about the elections are tagged “#iranelection” so they can easily be searched and followed. #iranelection quickly shot to the most popular tag on Twitter.
The blogosphere is on a high run too. Iran News (went offline since) , Tehran bureau (offline too) and Revolutionary Road (went offline too) are some examples of the bloggers active from different places in Iran, giving “liveblogging” a whole new meaning.
Other Iranian bloggers seem to be as active on the streets as in the Blogosphere. IranElections even features a picture of the imprints of police battons on his back and arms. Tehran Live posts excellent pictures.
Online blog coverage is available via blog giants Huffington Post and The Daily Dish. Global Voices does an excellent job in translating Tweets and blogs covering the post-elections’turmoil from Farsi to English, while expat Iranian bloggers are using their in-country connections to keep up. – check out NiacINsight.
Facebook has been trying to keep up, even though access to the most popular social media resource was said to be blocked in Iran after the elections. There is the opposition leader Mousavi’s Facebook page, with comments mostly in Farsi and page of the student movement. For English exchanges, check Where is my vote?
Meanwhile, social bookmarking sites start what they do best: spreading the links to the actual news resources. This thread on Reddit even contains tips on how to access Facebook from inside Iran, bypassing the government firewall.
As we get into the second day of protests, aggregators like Twazzup present an overview of the incoming flow of crowdsourced information. Check this out: Twazzup’s Iran page.
While foreign reporters and camera crews have their equipment confiscated, it looks like the authorities are trying to take a grip on the country again.
I wonder with the proliferation of social media if crowdsourced reporting will be or can be muffled. Short of disconnecting Iran from the international telephone network and pulling the plug on the Internet completely, it seems there is no stopping.
As the Daily Dish puts it in 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.
Picture courtesy Revolutionary Road (site went offline since)