Iran all the way home

Forgive the pun of the title and the silly photo to the left (which I found via GersonK).

As you might have heard, there are some things going on in Iran recently, and much has been made of the role that Twitter is playing in the unfolding events, both there and abroad. I myself Tweeted about earlier this week, a site that asks you to get the word out by turning your Twitter icon green. (Green was the campaign color of Iranian opposition opponent Mir-Hossein Mousavi and has therefore become closely linked with his supporters and others protesting supposed election fraud in the country.) It doesn’t seem to have worked for me — my icon stayed just the same — but maybe that’s okay. I’m starting to wonder if Heather wasn’t right when she wrote, “The thing is…this whole ‘green twitter for Iran’ thing reminds me of the whole #amazonfail thing.” Because we all know how that turned out. A lot of well-intentioned but misdirected fervor, it showcased Twitter’s incredible ability to communicate and organize people quickly — but also to more quickly spread disinformation and rumor than more conventional means.

Which is why it didn’t seem completely out of left field when Joshua Kucera asked, What if Twitter is leading us all astray in Iran?

None of this is to excuse the behavior of the government after the election results came out. Or to diminish the bravery and courage of the people who are out in the streets in Tehran getting beaten. But what if it’s based on a lie? A Twitter-fueled, mass delusion of a lie? That the one third of people who voted for Mousavi convinced themselves, via a social media echo chamber that selectively picked rumors and amplified them until they appeared true, that they in fact represented two thirds of the country? And then tried to bring down the government based on that delusion? Maybe it’s not the case this time. But doesn’t this entire episode seem to show how such a thing could happen? And then what? [via]

It’s why I’m more and more agreeing with David Simon, who writes:

…high-end journalism is a profession. It requires daily full-time commitment by trained men and women who return to the same beats day in and day out. Reporting was the hardest and, in some ways, most gratifying job I ever had. I’m offended to think that anyone anywhere believes American monoliths, as insulated, self-preserving and self-justifying as police departments, school systems, legislatures and chief executives, can be held to gathered facts by amateurs presenting the task—pursuing the task without compensation, training or, for that matter, sufficient standing to make public officials even care who it is they’re lying to or who they’re withholding information from.

Twitter can be a valuable tool, but it is not an unbiased news source, and it will very often get things wrong, even if only unintentionally. Maybe we should think before we accept everything we read there, before we rush to turn our icons green in support of a cause we don’t quite understand, or to throw fuel on a fire that’s already led to riots and death. As Chris McLaren puts it:

In many, many cases it is essential that we learn to engage our damn brains before our emotions get involved to the points that it becomes nigh impossibly difficult to do so.

Update (9/21/09, 8:46 PM): The New York Times lays out the problems with Twitter in the Iranian election aftermath much better than me. Which I guess is sort of the point. I’m an occasional blogger, with opinions certainly, but who knows practically nothing about Iran. What I’m not is a professional journalist. And neither, as it turns out, are many of the people Tweeting about this.

Friday Night Video

Real-life Twitter

Meanwhile, it turns out that Twitter’s ever-growing numbers are pretty much a lie:

A Nielsen survey reports that more than 60% of users who sign up for Twitter don’t return to the site the following month. So while Twitter’s traffic has catapulted to 6 million unique viewers each month, only 40% of new users actually stay to play.

I like and use Twitter, but I can’t say I’m surprised.

Links via Links and Gerry Canavan, respectively.