If you’re like us, you’re riveted to the political situation developing in Iran.
Though at this point it is impossible to predict the outcome, this much is clear: social media has been critical to the historic events we are witnessing.
Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, blogs; have all been reporting up-to-the-minute details about the happenings in Tehran and the broader country during these historic elections. Despite the efforts of current-President Ahmadinejad’s administration to control the flow of news in and out of Iran, social media channels have eluded their reach and have thus far been one of the few outlets for Iranians to communicate and share their impression of events.
To Ahmadinejad’s chagrin, information, images and video are pouring out of Iran at an incredible rate, generating controversy and dominating reporting at both international news organizations and the mainstream media. Perhaps more impressive is that this tremendous outflow of Iranian sentiment within social media has achieved what years of political and economic isolation could not: sowing the seeds of real reform and debate in Iranian society. Faced with the demands of the Iranian people for greater transparency, even the Ayatollah and the Iranian government are calling for a probe into the election results. Historic indeed.
At every pass, however, citizens of Iran are faced with challenges to communication and the spread of information. Cellphone lines have been jammed, websites blocked and blogs taken down at an ever increasing rate to stem the flow of chatter. Sites like Tehranlive.org, featuring images of the protests and violence in the streets are no longer visible in Iran. Videos on YouTube of scenes from downtown Tehran have been removed. Nevertheless, Iranians are finding a way, through any means possible, to inform the world of what they are living. Technology and social media have provided them with a means for self expression. The Iranian administration will find it increasingly difficult to quiet free speech.
To Americans and other Western observers, it is no surprise that social media and technology has fueled the course of political events. But their use in Iran’s election, particularly by the opposition’s campaign, is an unprecedented development in the Middle East. Text messaging was a key method of communication with voters. Twitter and Facebook pages were set up by campaign organizers. Information was even broadcast via YouTube, a way to circumvent state-run media that usually favors the incumbent. Mousavi’s techniques, clearly influenced by President Obama’s US campaign, are a sign of our changing times. Organizers were aware that they were not only communicating with the digerati, but that the digerati would share the message with the world. Social media provided them with a way to connect with and mobilize the educated youth without isolating the rest of the population.
Over the next few days and weeks, it is possible that the opposition’s efforts may fail – but change has already come to Iran and the rest of the world. The social media revolution has transformed both the politics of Iran and the world’s impressions of a population we rarely get to see. People have been awakened and energized by their distant neighbors.
The eyes of the world are fixed… and reading.
[For more riveting photography be sure to have a look at coverage of the protests on Boston.com.]Image Credit: USA Today/Getty Images
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