Monday, June 22, 2009

The Revolution might not be tweeted

The London Times has an excellent rundown on events in Iran.

Westerners, in particular Twitterers, need to take a deep breath. This is not about us, its all about the Iranian people and the type of government they decide to accept or reject.

In particular, the Times notes that far from being the central organizing force of the protests, almost no Iranians appear to have heard of Twitter. None of the 20 people they surveyed at an opposition rally had heard of Twitter. The revolution may not be tweeted after all, or if it is, the tweets may be playing a supporting rather than a leading role.

While the role of Twitter may be exaggerated, many of those attending the rallies had seen the death of Neda Agha-Soltan on television. Since we can be sure that this was not on Iranian state TV, it is clear that attempts to ban satellite TV have failed.

With this information, we can sketch out the likely path that news takes from the street via camera-phone, to the outside world via the Internet and back to Iran via the satellite TV stations. The flow of information out of Iran is being driven by email and the Web, not in 140 character tweets.

But even if Twitter is not the conduit through which information flows out of Iran, it may play an important role in establishing and connecting the support infrastructure for this process. Almost anyone who receives information from inside the regime, knows that they can bring it to wider attention through 'Twitter'. And even if the recipient of that information has no idea what Twitter is or how to use it, they can quickly find someone who can. And once out on the Twitter flux, any information that has news value will be re-tweeted repeatedly until it comes to the notice of the mainstream news.

Every revolution has an external support infrastructure, usually these are pretty small and limited to exiles and second generation ex-patriots. Twitter has enabled the Iranian opposition to build a support infrastructure of hundreds of thousands, if not millions in less than a week.

Ten days ago, the Iranian theocracy appeared to be set to last for decades, today most observers think is a question of when, not if the regime falls. The injustice, and hence the illegitimacy of the regime have already been established, through the election fraud and the martyrdom of Neda Agha-Soltan. All the regime has left is fear.

A regime that rules through fear is weakened by every scrap of information that demonstrates it has lost control. The inability of the authorities to control Twitter is one such demonstration.

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