There has been much ado over the last two days over the role of Twitter in reporting and spurring on the election protests in Iran. The outrage of Twitterers that cable news wasn’t covering the election swayed the MSM, particularly CNN, according to the Times. The Revolution will be Twittered Andrew Sullivan breathlessly declared of the power of Twitter and Millennials (who actually don’t use Twitter here in the US as much as they use Facebook) to shape events and the coverage of them. And then, of course, the pushback from smart commentators, like Tom Watson, declaring quite firmly that the Revolution Won’t be Twittered! Tom warns about the “catnip” quality of Twitter for jouanlists looking to crown the little digital tool as a catalyst of revolutions. He writes:
But I think there are limits, especially when men and women are marching in streets patrolled by the troops of an absolutist religious dictatorship, facing soldiers’ guns in public and the noose behind the prison wall. Sure, Twitter (and Facebook and text messaging and blog and YouTube) can be effective information outlets for revolutionaries, but it’s utterly facile to suggest that information technology is driving the currents of unrest in Iran. I can understand the impulse, though; after all, we (the digerati, the plugged in, the Twitterverse) are watching it unfold online. And, you know, wherever we are, well, that’s where the action is.
But there are interesting lessons here, both positive and negative, that are important to highlight as we continue to learn how best to use social media during fast-paced social events. Here are a few thoughts that I hope others will continue to expand upon:
1. This weekend certainly showed that the mainstream media is listening to closely to what is being tweeted about them. In fact, that may be one of the most powerful aspects of Twitter, the fact that journalists are using it as part of their practice of finding stories, hearing from more voices and distributing their stories makes it a great vehicle for communities of people to shout loudly at them and be heard. We’ve been shouting for a while, but being heard is quite another thing.
2. To remind us that there are no silver bullets. It is so tempting to want to annoint the latest tools; Twitter this year, Facebook last year, blogs the year before, as THE catalyst for social change. There are lots of different channels on which to have lots of different conversations and no one tool or conversation creates a revolution. There is a rich stew of social media and it is the combination of them that we need to keep trying to understand and use for social change.
3. As Jeff Jarvis pointed out this morning (via Twitter, of course!) @jeffjarvis: To a reporter today that Twitter is not news source.Source of tips & temperature & sources. Reporting follows. Twitter doesn’t replace journalism, it is a first cut, real-time stream of conversations and information, some of which is helpful, most of which is either restating the observations of other people or false rumor. But that’s what history is before it’s history, isn’t it? Just a jumble of events, conversations, observations for others to make sense.
I was thinking this morning about the remarkable juxtaposition of the twentieth anniversity of Tiananmen Square last week and the Iranian protests this week. The only thing the world knew of the Chinese protests were still photographs of incredibly brave young people protesting together, or singly standing right in front of tanks, that we saw hours later. Compare that to the real-time reporting from within Iran by brave people using whatever tools were working, cell phones before they went down, Flckr, Facebook, and Twitter, to tell the world what is happening right now. I’ll take the real-time social media stew anytime and leave it to others to figure out what’s historically important later!