Opinion

A Nobel Peace Prize for Twitter?

The free social-messaging utility uniquely documented and personalized the story of hope, heroism, and horror in Iran.

By

The video gave substance to what seemed so far away. We saw the look in her eyes as they went lifeless. We heard the sounds of her friends and family as they begged her to hold on. And she became the personification of the struggle for democracy in a country where voices for freedom are quelled.

Her name was Neda Agha-Soltan, and without Twitter we might never have known that she lived in Iran, that she dreamed of a free Iran, and that she died in a divided Iran for her dreams.

Neda became the voice of a movement; Twitter became the megaphone. Twitter is a free social-messaging utility. It drove people around the world to pictures, videos, sound bites, and blogs in a true reality show of life, dreams, and death. Last month's marches for freedom and the violent crackdowns were not only documented but personalized into a story of mythic tragedy.

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When traditional journalists were forced to leave the country, Twitter became a window for the world to view hope, heroism, and horror. It became the assignment desk, the reporter, and the producer. And, because of this, Twitter and its creators are worthy of being considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I first mentioned this idea while being interviewed on a cable news program. Many scoffed. That's understandable. But think about what Twitter has accomplished: It has empowered people to attempt to resolve a domestic showdown with international implications – and has enabled the world to stand with them. It laid the foundation to pressure the world to denounce oppression in Iran.

Twitter has been criticized as a time-waster – a way for people to inform their friends about the minutiae of their lives, 140 characters at a time. But in the past month, 140 characters were enough to shine a light on Iranian oppression and elevate Twitter to the level of change agent. Even the government of Iran has been forced to utilize the very tool they attempted to squelch to try to hold on to power.

Without Twitter, the world might have known little more than a losing candidate accusing the powers that be of alleged fraud. Without Twitter, the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and democracy. They did so because they knew the world was watching. With Twitter, they now shout hope with a passion and dedication that resonates not just with those on their street, but with millions across the globe.

Other social media have certainly played an important part in giving freedom a voice. Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi has amassed more than 100,000 supporters on Facebook. At the height of the protest activities, according to Mashable.com's Ben Parr, more than 221,000 Iran tweets were sent in one hour. In one day, 3,000 Iranian videos were uploaded on YouTube, and 2.2 million blog entries were posted.

But Twitter's role has been unique. More so than other networks, it offers many more users the opportunity to communicate ideas, text, and media. On most other sites, only people who have accepted one another as "friends" are able to read updates. Via "hashtags" (for example, #iranelection), Twitter overcomes this barrier, allowing people interested in a particular subject to tweet and retweet messages. Additionally, through cellphone applications and SMS, Twitter proves easier to update – and harder for an oppressive regime to block – than other types of social media.

Although we don't know how the uprising in Iran will end, or where the symbols of freedom and liberty will again be given power by people who require an unfettered means of communicating with the rest of us, Twitter and other social media outlets have become the soft weapons of democracy. Twitter told us the story of Neda's supreme sacrifice. It is telling the story of the Iranian people yearning to breathe free. For those reasons, Twitter deserves consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mark Pfeifle was deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and global outreach at the National Security Council from 2007 to 2009.

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