The aftermath of the Iranian election has provided quite a case study of the intersection between social media, the increasing difficulty of censorship and government affairs.
As most folks know Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been reelected and the opposition has been protesting. Now there's talk about partial recounts and a global display of the Iranian divide over its future. But these protests are different: Everyone is a reporter. Here's what you learn when everyone has a phone, a Web connection and social media tools:
- Censorship is much harder than it used to be. As the protests over the election escalate Iran has gone to a familiar playbook. Boot foreign journalists, clamp down on text messaging and seal off the Internet. Iran's elite guard is warning online media to stay away. The problem: Twitter. Users are rearranging their time zones to Tehran and doing what they can to throw off Iran's government. Something tells me China would be better at the clampdown.
- Future revolutions will be broadcast. As Dan Farber notes, several sites are highlighting data in real time. Flickr photos of the protests abound. Twitter, Facebook and Flickr as well as blogs are filling the journalist void---especially since a lot of the pros have been booted.
- The U.S. government sees social media as a useful tool. Perhaps social media is a way to stir unrest without getting your hands dirty. Think Twitter as foreign policy. When the State Department asks Twitter to delay an upgrade you know the landscape has changed. This government-Web 2.0 shuffle is interesting. On one hand, the State Department is encouraging Iranian Tweets. Twitter has to deny it's a state organ.
- There may be commercial benefit here. No one will ever admit it right now, but there's some benefit for Twitter, which has become so intertwined with the news cycle that old media has to mention it. For Twitter, the Iran election has provided a sustained event that has proven its value.
- A new chapter in social media has opened. Institutions will increasingly use social media tools like Twitter to get their messages across. Remember, Twitter has opened the State Department's eyes. Rest assured every other government agency across the globe has noticed too. That means social media will get its dose of propaganda too. The challenge will be filtering these competing messages.