Thursday, 18 June 2009

Social media and Iran

Like many in the geek trade, part of me has been professionally fascinated by the impact of social media in the events in Iran. Certainly this has been a developing meme, since the disturbances in late 2006 in France that the social media, blogs, twitter, facebook, flickr and the rest have been more effective in getting the message out than the traditional media and news gathering organisations.

Here in Australia, our own publicly funded ABC has rolled over and taken to relaying tweets and flickr images since its journalists were asked to leave Iran.

And it is certainly fascinating how the social media ecology has come together, so that someone with access to the internet, a $100 camera and a $400 netbook can post images and messages from the frontline. Add a $300 video camera, etc etc.

And this is where I start to feel unease. I have never been to Iran, but I have the impression that it is not unlike Turkey in a demographic sense. Large relatively westernised cities with more secular attitudes, a large and poor rural religiously observant population, and a problem with large numbers of peasants moving from the poor countryside to the cities, in the case of Turkey the informal settlements (I was going to write shanty towns but many are more developed than that) that ring Istanbul and in the case of Teheran the poor areas of south Teheran.

Now these people have a right to be heard. We see this in Turkey with the rise of more islamic and less secular political parties. We saw this in Iran, where while the media liked to show pictures and interview attractive english speaking people prior to the election, they also showed pictures of the poor of south Teheran lining up to vote.

These people are also poor, less educated, less likely to have internet access, or the $100 camera, the netbook or whatever. And there is a risk here. We see the demonstrations againts the election result. We do not see the reactions, the attitudes of those who supported Ahmedinajad, and many undoubtedly did.

The consequence being that we cannot truly tell what the majority think. Traditional news media may have been able to tell us, but now they've been banned we can only guess what these people think, and to what extent they want change.


dgm said...

appropriate seeming cartoon from the Times

dgm said...

text of my original 2006 post on social media and news:

blogs - self indulgent or useful news source?
posted Wed, 05 Apr 2006 14:10:18 -0700

Most blogs, including this one, are written for personal reasons to keep a record of things.

People find writing down things useful. But blogs can also be useful as a way of conveying information - we've had Salaam Pax's blog from inside of Iraq before Gulf War 2 and various cases of blogs being turned into books, as in the recent blooker prizes.

But no blog that was truly useful. well not until today. Today I've had my personal epiphany on this and seen a blog that replaces/compliments - you judge - the traditional media. It's at witness reports and images of the anti-CPE (First Employment Contract) protests paralysing France.

Forget your own political standpoint and just look at this blog. Put together from emails, text messages, and photos emailed from digital cameras and mobile phones it has an immediacy and vibrancy that conventional media don't have.

Mind you there will always be a role for conventional media as content aggregators and summarisers - it is kind of handy to get a summary of the news in a portable easy to read format dumped on your drive every morning.

What is also fascinating is how quickly the revolution has happened - while we had usenet postings from kremvax during the Moscow coup in 1990 usenet and email never really made it.

When 9/11 happened we were still reliant on traditional media, desparetely trying to find a news site that hadn't crashed, but now, the world has changed.

As a frend of mine used to say