Twitter and the Iran election

If you’ve been on Twitter or pretty much anywhere online in the recent past , you’ve learned that Twitter has been playing a key role in allowing news about the contentious presidential election in Iran to be spread throughout the world.

What’s notable is many doing the reporting are regular folks, not journalists, and the act of using Twitter  is helping them circumvent Iranian government attempts to quash information.

Interest in the topic has been fierce. The hashtag #iranelection is the top trending topic right now on Twitter and has been for quite a while. Reading the tweets in real time is illustrates the power of filterless news.

The U.S. State Department evidently see all this tweeting about the election as valuable enough that it asked Twitter to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut daytime service to Iran, according to a Reuters report.

It’s a pivotal moment for journalism, social media and the Web for sure. Across the blogosphere and in the mainstream press, it’s being called the “Twitter revolution.” Some notable observations:

  • Patrick Thornton at Beat Blogging offers some insight into how this example shows the power of social media to allow dissemination of news even when a government does pretty much all it can to stop it.
  • BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis calls it the API revolution, noting that “Twitter’s architecture — which enables anyone to create applications that call and feed into it — that makes it all but impervious from blocking by tyrants’ censors.”
  • New York University professor Clay Shirky calls it “The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media.”

Sure, this is a triumph for Twitter. Hopefully, it will help naysayers realize that Twitter isn’t just about what you had for lunch that day. But it is so much more than that. It’s a triumph for the “new” journalism and all it can mean for how we cover our world. Here’s why:

  • Role of citizen journalism: The Iranian government restricted journalists from “unauthorized” demonstrations, but it couldn’t stop nonjournalists from tweeting what they heard, knew, saw or felt about the election. To me, that’s a perfect example of citizen journalism at its finest. It’s reporting distilled to its barest essence. And without it, the world wouldn’t know what’s happening there in quite the same way. I’m not bothered that some reporting may end up to be incorrect or incomplete, as critics will surely point out if they haven’t already.  It’s an evolving story under harsh conditions. To me, tweets aren’t a final story; they are part of the process. And the need for the world to know what’s going on is so important that we cannot wait until we have the full story. Being part of the process pulls us all into the story.
  • Serious news can be hot: This event shows that people can be interested in “serious” stories. Too often, I think, some in the mainstream press believe that the masses don’t want the “important stories”  — that they just want the fluff, the Paris Hilton piece, the “Jon & Kate Plus 8″ will they break up article, the dummed-down one-quote story. To me, the attention Twitter has brought to the Iran election brings me hope that people aren’t so shallow or stupid.  I realize that while this story was buzzing on Twitter that doesn’t mean it’s hot among the general public. But I’d also guess that a person who might not seek out a story on the Iranian election, might read a tweet about one that came to them on Twitter. It takes much less effort to click on a link that shows up in your Twitter stream than it does to follow an important story through more traditional methods, but just reading that tweet could sow the seeds of interest.
  • Viewers help shape coverage: In a compelling and vocal way, people were able to let the mainstream press know that they wanted more coverage of this story. People on Twitter even blasted CNN over the weekend for its failure to cover the protests of Iranian citizens claiming ballot fraud, using the hashtag #cnnfail, writes Pete Cashmore at Mashable. And what’s even more notable: CNN listened and beefed up its coverage. Talk about power of the people and engaging and listening to the readers/viewers. Cashmore notes that the lesson here isn’t that new media beats old media. It’s that people want both: unfiltered information from new media and context and meaning from traditional news organizations. Sounds like a perfect marriage to me.

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