Higher Ground: twitter, youtube, and the Iranian election

June 21, 2009 at 8:22 am 4 comments

Unidentified protestor, Tehran, June 2009

Unidentified protestor, Tehran, June 2009

I’m tearing myself away from twitter right now to note that, since the aftermath of the disputed election in Iran last week, the much-maligned social networking site has all of a sudden become the most significant media outlet for information about the protests in that country. Search #iranelection and you get dozens of tweets and retweets every minute from Iranians on the ground reporting live in first person about the civil unrest there. Although Iranian security forces are trying to track and shut down tweeters, news is still pouring out of the country via the social media site much faster than it can be traced and eliminated. “it was a nightmare, I can barely breath & my face is burning, Masood got shot in the arm & Shayan’s brother is missing,” reads one tweet. “we ran as fast as we could in the opposite direction, at the same time basiji bastards started to hit fleeing people,” states another.

Mainstream media sources like msnbc.com and the BBC are suddenly the followers, not the leaders, of online, first-person news sources—the U.K. Telegraph, cnn.com and time.com are reporting on the latest twitter updates

Simultaneously, youtube has become the best up-to-the-minute source for raw, unmediated video from Iran. I just watched a clip of destruction of the headquarters of the Basij, the Iranian paramilitary force, which was posted almost immediately after its occurrence a few hours ago. A video of the death of a young woman who was shot by the Basij has been viewed by thousands since it was posted earlier today, further galvanizing protestors in Iran and worldwide.

Protestors with rocks, Tehran, June 2009

Protestors with rocks, Tehran, June 2009

Underscoring the influence of new media on what’s going on in Iran, embattled opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi released his most recent statement to his supporters not through a traditional news source but as a status update to his facebook page. The message reads simply, “Today you are the media, it is your duty to report and keep the hope alive,” suggesting that Mousavi is cognizant of the power of Iranians using the Internet to keep the outside world informed.

It’s impossible to predict how events will play out in Iran but it’s interesting that this is all taking place close on the heels on the 20th anniversary of the suppression of protestors in Tiananmen Square. With the world’s new ability to watch in real time and with more ready access to eyewitness accounts, will things turn out differently than they did two decades ago? Thus informed, will we be able to take action when we need to, or will we be paralyzed by our fascination with the spectacle? Will the arc of the universe bend towards justice this time?

Thanks to al rodgers at dailykos.com for the photos: many more here.

UPDATE: Go here for a list of tweeters to follow, plus much more.

UPDATE 2: New York Times article about Iran/twitter here.

UPDATE 3: Since first publishing this post three days ago some of the people I’ve been following on twitter, notably change_for_iran,  have stopped updating. I suspect this is due to increasing limitations on internet traffic from Iran; I hope it’s not a sign of something more ominous. However, there are still several good sources to be found from the list in the first update, plus a great nightly English translation of significant Farsi tweets here.

Meanwhile, #iranelection has become somewhat useless as it’s jammed with spammers and other irrelevant tweets. But it’s probably still more current than, say, cnn or the New York Times right now.

UPDATE 4: June 24–possible bad news about another twitterer I’ve been following, persiankiwi. The last few tweets have been quite frightening & as of four hours ago have ended altogether. One of the last tweets: “we must go – dont know when we can get internet – they take 1 of us, they will torture and get names – now we must move fast.”

UPDATE 5: July 17–change_for-iran is back online. still no word from persiankiwi. Go here for good updates in English.

Entry filed under: activism, civil rights, internet, iran, politics, twitter, Uncategorized, youtube. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ewaffle  |  June 21, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Thanks for a hell of a post—I signed up for a twitter account and started following #iranelection, for the first time realizing that it might be more than an odd application, good for a laugh and not much more. Quite amazing stuff.

    I was able to watch about half of the YouTube video before it became just too dreadful and intrusive—a young woman dying in a pool of her own blood while those around are helpless. Simply astonishing, something which must be seen but not (at least now) by me.

    In 2009, raw, unedited (and largely unverified although with a very strong ring of truth to it) accounts and images from the scene of the uprisings/demonstrations/confrontations as they happen.

    20 years ago there was the tank man from Tiananmen Square and contemporary news accounts.

    In 1968 there was the Tlatelolco massacre of students and workers who were trying to use the Mexico City Olympic Games as a platform for their protests with fragmentary and contradictory reports—essentially all one knew in the USA was that deadly state-sponsored violence on a mass scale was happening until definitive accounts came out.

    The Hungarian uprising in 1956 must have been covered by newspapers in the only way they could then, with reports well over a day behind events there.

    From most of what I have read—limited to English–Mir Hossein Mousavi is a very unlikely leader of mass street protests. I thought he was very much a man of the establishment whose policies wouldn’t differ that much from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but with a much more friendly seeming face to the world. Stranger things have happened though—maybe Marx nailed it, as he so often did, with “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted…” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte).

    • 2. valeriesoe  |  June 21, 2009 at 7:38 pm

      Hi E,

      We live in interesting times indeed–let’s hope things play out more like the Velvet Revolution and less like Tiananmen. At least the powers-that-be are less able to shroud their actions in invisibility these days.


  • […] networking and other virtual spaces. By utilizing web-based imagery Tareneh’s work also mirrors the significant role that the internet played in this year’s presidential elections in Iran, during which opposition leaders and activists as […]

  • […] serious injury” and that “chemical agents will be used.” Who knew that when the regime in Iran was cracking down on peaceful protesters back in 2009 that the OPD would be using similar shock tactics to prevent U.S. citizens from exercising their […]


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