We’ve been manning an account on Twitter since early 2008, and at first we were merely using it in our workshops to demonstrate to our students the different social media in the Web 2.0 arsenal. Gradually, over time, we started to use the platform to engage in conversations with others about our work but also about the subject of media literacy, which led to us trying to specifically address the medium of Twitter through Twitter itself. Through this implementation, we’ve discovered some incredibly dynamic and beneficial qualities to Twitter, however, none more than Twitter’s search function. Type any term you want, and you receive a realtime, updated stream of tweets from everyone who mentions that term in their tweet. Instantly, you can see what people all around the globe are saying through Twitter about “model airplanes” or “world cup 2010”. Recently, this function has served a much more prescient, geo-political purpose.
On Friday, general elections for Iranian President took place. Shortly after, incumbent President Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, defeating his rival Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The reaction worldwide was astonishment and shock, but none more outraged than those within Iran’s borders. Gradually, demonstrations began to assemble on the streets of Tehran, growing in intensity, despite the threats of armed response from the government. Coinciding with these brave protesters, another demonstration has emerged on Twitter. Thousands of people are spreading information, links, pictures and other words of encouragement all with the hash tag of #iranelection, which means when you perform a Twitter search on that term, you can witness the constant stream of tweets it chains together. I encourage you to spend a few minutes reading through the long list of updates. It’s pretty incredible. You see hundreds and perhaps thousands of folks around the world using this “useless” medium to voice their support for those Iranians gathering to demand their voices heard and their votes counted.
While monitoring the events that are unfolding on Twitter (and on some other sites as well), several things occurred to me. Numerous messages are being forwarded about actions by the Iranian Government:
“They’re cutting off all connections now, Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger Twitter..”
“CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters! PLEASE RT! URGENT!”
While monitoring this stream, I’ve encountered these repeated over and over by folks who probably have the kindest of intentions, but how do they possibly know that what they are spreading is accurate information? There have been several photos posted via TwitPic that depict some gruesome scenes, but again, how are we certain these photos are coming from these harrowing events? Another item was posted several times in Twitter that the BBC’s website had changed it’s colors to green in order to show solidarity with Mousavi’s supporters (“2mw: rt@omasciandaro: The BBC web site just went green in support of Iraninan opposition. Small gesture, huge message. Go green! #iranelection“). However, this isn’t true. The BBC’s website has been these colors for a long while.
We asked several questions on Twitter about this subject:
–How many of you are following #iranelection? How many of those tweets w/that label can you trust? What % need to be dismissed? % heeded?
–Twitter + #iranelection = first Internet uprising? http://bit.ly/ZQYDc But who’s in command? Are there guiding principles?
–How do you trust the “factual” ones? are those twitpics really pics of #iranelection? Who’s factchecking?
While this is by no means a statistically significant sampling, the only responses we got to our questions were of the nature that factchecking, guidance and critical analysis weren’t important to what was being attempted through Twitter. This response brings up a whole bunch of other questions: What constitutes an uprising? Do these well-intentioned folks really understand Iranian politics and the positions Mousavi held in the election?
Maybe we’re seeing the first Internet uprising, and perhaps other uprisings also dealt with this amount of misinformation being disseminated, but one thing is for sure: Twitter is more than just telling others about the chili cheese dog you had for lunch.