Second guessing Twitter's effect on post-election Iran
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"My take on it at this point is that Twitter probably wasn't all that important in organizing the demonstration," Zuckerman said. "Where I think they were enormously important is helping people, particularly people in the Moldovan Diaspora, keep up with the events in real time." He pointed to the large Moldovan diaspora, and said that much of the Twittering had been recycled among Moldovans abroad.Skip to next paragraph
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"Roughly a quarter of all of the messages posted on Tuesday, the day of the actual demonstrations, were what we call re-tweets," Zuckerman said, adding that, "By Wednesday, a lot of what seems to be going on in the Twittering is a sort of self-congratulatory, hey, we just held a revolution over Twitter – isn't this exciting? Twitter will change the world."
Zuckerman then suggested that Twitter may have been incorporated by pro-government forces. "Fascinatingly," he said, "it looks like it is being used as a disinformation channel by forces who might have been aligned with the government, essentially trying to scare people away from demonstrating again."
In our pages
The Monitor has written extensively on the "Twitter Revolution," both on this blog and in our World section. On June 19, Yigal Schleifer wrote, "Twitter has emerged as the most powerful way to disseminate photos, organize protests, and describe street scenes in the aftermath of the contested June 12 election. Iranians' reliance on the social-networking tool has elevated it from a banal way to update one's friends in 140-character bursts to an agent for historic changes in the Islamic Republic."
And on June 17, I argued that the "terse, frenetic nature of the site that makes it so useful. Users can communicate information quickly and clearly, and with minimal effort. More important, they can reach a much wider audience than with a simple Facebook profile update." In that article, I pointed to a quote from social media guru Gaurav Mishra, who argued that the idea of a Twitter revolution was “suspect… The amount of people who use these tools in Iran is very small and could not support protests that size,” Mishra said.
For his part, Reilly writes that there is one easy way for us to figure out how Twitter impacted the events in Iran. "It's true that Twitter may have saved tens of thousands of lives in the days following the election," he acknowledges:
Then again, it may not have saved any at all. We simply don't know, since no journalist or historian or political scientist has yet had the luxury of talking with key figures from the opposition and figuring out how important Twitter was in terms of protecting dissenters. No one's been able to study — with the precision required to make the sort of declaratory statement everyone currently craves — exactly what role Twitter played in mobilizing and sustaining resistance to the regime.
Is Twitter a revolutionary tool? Or is it still just a glorified distraction? Tell us here – or on Twitter.