Posted by: cgratton | June 20, 2009

Social Media Helps to Generate a Revolution in Iran

These days, the “social media revolution” is living up to its name. Literally. In the midst of the political turmoil raging in the streets of Tehran, Iranian government officials are blocking cellphone text messaging, cutting off Internet access and shutting down electricity in an attempt to stifle the post-election riots by breaking down communication lines.

But Iranians are not taking this sitting down. Instead, they’ve turned to Twitter, Friendfeed and Facebook to share their up-close-and-personal stories from the front lines of the dramatically unfolding situation. They’ve been able to bypass government barriers on Internet access by applying their tech-savvy knowledge of  proxy sites to share news updates, photos and information with other Iranian protestors and the rest of the world.  The latter is particularly important considering the fact that a majority of reporters have been blocked from entering the city, and therefore, many international news networks have no one to cover breaking events.  They now are forced to rely heavily on this citizen-made material to form their broadcasts and glue together the fragmented pieces of this complex story together.

Much of this coverage came not only from Tweets, but also from YouTube videos. These shocking clips speak for themselves of the chaos and violence running rampant right now in Tehran.

In this video, from YouTube user wwwiranbefreecom, the viewer is dragged along the street at the same frantic speed as the cameraman. CNN, ABC or CBS’s coverage doesn’t hold a candle to this.

Or this video, which shows masked police officers brutally beating an Iranian protester from just a few feet away:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave what some call a fatally errored speech on Friday

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave what some call a "fatally errored" speech on Friday

These videos are glaring examples of how citizen journalism is taking today’s available social media technology to the next level, using it as an engine of revolution, a tool to show the world what is truly going on despite what other government-generated reports may say.

And these reports are extremely limited.  Yesterday’s speech from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is one of the only official pieces of information the international news media has, and most are bashing the speech as ambivalent and manipulated, further raising questions of who’s to blame and who’s really telling the truth.

For protesters, exposing their understanding of the truth is overwhelmingly at their fingertips.  Many are calling these protests a “grass-roots movement,” and justly so, as Iranians are now relying on themselves and their own “grass-roots journalism” as a vital weapon to stand up to their government, spread awareness and finally let their voices be heard.

The events in Iran seem to mark a pivotal moment for Social Media, showing its incredible power to facilitate change and churn the cogs of political revolution. Naysayers can no longer discount Twitter or Facebook’s importance—the truth is out and its loud and clear.

Yet, some say that the information posted on these sites or relayed through these videos isn’t enough—it doesn’t relavently connect the  information or weave a balanced story the way the traditional news media does to help the audience understand overarching themes of importance.  But for as much as this may be true, there are no other alternatives at this point.  The media is practically blacklisted from entering Iran, and therefore the stories of this tumultuous event would never hit the airwaves at all.  And I think I’m not alone in saying that it’s definitely better to know anything we can at this point than to have yet another political injustice silently swept under the rug of censorship.

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