Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's Called Social Media for a Reason

As events around the election and resulting protests in Iran unfold, it seems like every blogger, tweeter, and other social mediaer is in on the action. And I don't know how many people in Philly's streets are wearing the green of protest, but I see Twitter and Facebook photos in lovely mossy hues.

Will Bunch, Daily News columnist, wrote a piece about the Iran election story from the lens of a growing gulf between social media and more traditional news outlets: Media revolution: What's Gained, What's Lost.

But I think Bunch missed the point. Social media isn't solely about news transmission, it is about mass movements and activism. Social media is responding to and creating news.

I made a comment on Bunch's Attytood online blog post:

In the 1950's the newly birthed television gave the civil rights movement a mass audience. People were horrified by the sight of dogs and firehoses unleashed on peaceful demonstrators looking for the end of segregation. But people did not simply watch tv, they opened their wallets and gave money to activist groups such as Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) or they simply went down South to participate in direct action. Social media promises to usher in a new wave of activism because in short bursts of information, messages of "Do this" or "Go there" are flooded our consciousness. We aren't absorbing news passively in social media, we are being encouraged to construct it. It is better to go do something and tweet about it in the moment than to read about it in the paper in the morning. With social media, I use my voice, but I also use my feet. I demonstrate, I boycott, and I put up a big ole fuss with the establishment. Talk without action leads nowhere.

In summary, I am very much excited by the potential social media has in shaping our world in more democratic and more humane ways. I want to be part of that.


  1. Planet Caroline: this is a great piece about social media. I love how it demonstrates the power of social media. In fact, the mention of twitter and social media has been up in the news because of everything in Iran and I think it's really waking people up to the possibilities. Very interesting post!

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head. It's not about reporting so much as creating. A few weeks before the Iranian election, the Times of London published this article about how young Pakistanis were mobilizing resistance to the Taliban via Facebook. This followed an earlier article in the Indian Express about the same phenomenon.

    Social media will never be in a position to accurately report the news, and Twitter, particularly, with its 146 character limit, is as devoid of analysis as it is of fact-checking. But it can mobilize the masses, and that seems to be the undeniable consensus of the past week.

    There are two-edges to the sword, though, and Jack Shafer has a sobering piece about Twitter vis-a-vis Iran today on Slate. The last part, about Ethan Zuckerman's study of Twitter in April's Moldovan protests is particularly worth considering.

  3. Left Bank Scribe,

    Thanks for writing your comments and linking the articles. Now that I am following several sources outside and inside Iran, I am thoroughly confused. Reality and mass appeals have blurred. Also at the democracy rally at Rittenhouse Square, I wasn't sure about Twitter's presence. When I got home I did some searches on Twitter and only found a handful of tweets about the event. Seemed like Facebook had more of a presence. The event was advertised there.

  4. Yeah, I used to say that Twitter was going to be the LaserDisc of the late 2000s. Maybe it's more like BetaMax waiting for its VHS moment.

    Andrew Sullivan's been doing a pretty decent job of covering the election crisis, although you have to take everything with a grain of salt even there.

    If you really want to get a handle on how things came to be in modern Iran, I highly recommend Stephen Kinzer's All The Shah's Men. Finished it in a week. He pulls no punches and really pulls back the curtain on all the players involved.


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