I did my best to stay away from commenting on the Iranian elections. I barely know the region and I have limited information about the Iranian political system. But obviously, I was the only one suffering from a lack of expertise on the issue. First the Department of State asked Twitter to keep Iran online, then people associated the elections with Public Diplomacy 2.0. I can no longer stay away from the issue.
Journalism 101: Tweets are not news (Prof. Manny Paraschos, Emerson College, Media Ethics 2009, Volume 20, Number 2, p. 17)
Now, what do we know about Iran?
– It is a country somewhere on the other side of the ocean.
– It is ruled by a ruthless, heartless, ultra-conservative leader Ahmedinejad or Ahmadinecad, we are not sure about the spelling of his name but he is evil
– Ahmadinejad stole the elections from the other candidate, who is a nicer guy. He is like Obama but with a long beard.
How do we all know these? Because we saw them on twitter! Now, let’s back up a little bit. Yes, online media is important, we can get our news online. Even Ahmadinejad is aware of this fact. He is okay with denying the Holocaust, he threatens Israel on daily basis but when he was accused of trying to ban Facebook, he immediately denied it! Again, I am not an expert on the country, but why do we doubt the official results and then believe in the Twitter results? What socio-economic groups in Iran use Twitter in Iran? Is the majority of the population online and computer savvy?
I am not supporting the official elections results. They might be inaccurate. There might have been some fraud in the elections. But basing these fraud claims on tweets does not sound acceptable to me.
The tweets declare that Ahmadinejad stole the election and that Jabir is enjoying a lamb kebab. (Conan O’Brien)
Well, you have 140 characters on Twitter. Thus, what you can say is quite limited. Frankly speaking, with all the government limitations and control in Iran,online social media seems to be the only way to reach the global public opinion. As Helle Dale also argues Web 2.0 plays the role of the fax machines in Polish solidarity and cell phones in Ukrainian Orange Revolution. But;
– Twitter necessitate some kind of technical knowledge – which is not enjoyed by the majority of the population.
– Tweets are limited to 140 characters – which means that they are incredibly limited in constructing a valid/legitimate/strong arguments. (Nonetheless, Twitter is a great way to promote an idea.)
– We can never know the identity of the resource with absolute certainty. It will take anyone only about 15 seconds to create a Twitter account and get online. An unknown source cannot be credible!
Today, I clicked for the society!
Apart from the credibility of the resources and the limited socio-economic groups creating the messages, I find the most disturbing shortcoming of the online media to be the e-activism understanding. Let’s make our Twitter pictures green, use Tehran time zone, and change our profile pictures with “where’s their vote?” posters and viola! We saved the entire Iranian society!
Although internet technologies, especially Web 2.0 understanding, are beneficial for civil society and grassroots advocacy attempts on one side; on the other side, they tend to make everything seem ‘so easy’. I am sorry but being an activist requires more than posting articles on your Facebook profile or on your blog!
To sum up, I still have many doubts about digital diplomacy and citizen journalism. They might be beneficial as well as misleading depending on the situation. I can say one thing for sure, I do not support e-activism.
“E-Diplomacy, maybe; E-Activism, no thanks!”
And by the way, did I tell you that the Washington Post and the Guardian are also helping Ahmadinejad to manipulate the results? Read the article here!