Social tech fuels Iranian election revolution

Social tech fuels Iranian election revolution

iranian_protest_election_results_26There’s a ton of great material out there on the nuances of the Iranian election and protests, and I just want to quickly throw some thoughts into the ring.

First, from an American media perspective, here was another great moment for folks to demand what they wanted to see covered on national news media. What a moment of media dissonance: As protests erupted — and in some cases, turned violent –? in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere in Iran, major broadcast media in the US had little to no news on the events at all. By using the hashtag1 #CNNfail to collect all of the dissatisfaction on Twitter, Americans were able to shift the focus of the conversation and eventually influence CNN’s decision makers to start covering stories by Sunday.

It’s reminiscent of #AmazonFAIL (when Amazon accidentally delisted 58,000 books, fueling a social media revolt), in the sense that within a pretty short timeframe (less than 24 hours), major news organizations simply could not ignore the story unfolding — via reportage and commentary — on social media. I remind folks to think about how this sort of situation would have unfolded even five years ago: Bloggers would blog, perhaps media watchdog organizations would get a grassroots campaign together, and maybe within a week, if we were lucky, we’d see some influence. Now, with so many people participating in the conversation, we have immense power to quickly shift both focus and perception.

This is why, when it comes to politics and advocacy work, it’s important to look at a bigger picture beyond just who’s using Facebook to get votes, or which representatives of governments tweet with pizazz. It’s less about celebrity and more about connection, humanity and the ability to inject our values into the wider culture in a fundamentally populist way.

Another fascinating angle of this story is the bootstrapping of access to technology after the Iranian government began blocking access. Facebook was blocked in late May, when reformist candidate Moussavi had around 5,200 supporters. Not long into the protests this weekend, access to major portions of the Internet (including Twitter), as well as SMS texting, were blocked. Not to be stopped, protesters within Iran are receiving information about accessing proxy servers from folks setting them up outside of the country, and stories continue to flood out.

Honestly, there is just no blocking The Internet, y’all. What the Iranian government is trying to do is, in effect, akin to trying to stop water or electricity from flowing. There is so much infrastructure in place at this point, they’d basically have to blow up most of it to stop people from accessing the outside world. Of course, I wouldn’t put it past Ahmadinejad, now that I think about it…

1 What’s a hashtag? It’s a keyword that people add to their tweets, so that conversations around a particular topic can be easily tracked.