Twitter: Solidarity On The Cheap

By David W. Brown
When brave Iranian students took to the streets in protest of a crooked election, Twitter was there. Users colored their avatars in solidarity, and the site flowed as green as the Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day. People who might otherwise have vaguely identified Tehran as a country we bombed post-9/11 were speaking authoritatively on Mir-Hossein Mousavi and the sympathies of the Grand Ayatollahs. Bored office clerks across America dependably--they might say heroically--reported movements of the Basij, echoed warnings of street barricades, and quoted the Quran (in Arabic script, natch) with the revolutionary tenacity of Samuel Adams, before he was just a beer.

It would be a challenge to find a single journal of record that didn't call the uprising the Twitter Revolution. With that in mind, a note to would-be revolutionaries: next time, try Facebook.

Today, hundreds of protesters are behind bars. It should come as no surprise that harsh treatment and regular beatings are part of the Iranian prison experience. And it's now reported that the jailed women and young boys are subject to rape and sodomy.

As for the fearless denizens of Twitter? They've moved on to other important news of the day: Lady Gaga. Regis and Kelly. "New Moon."

Iranians in want of democracy must feel a bit like the Kurds following the Gulf War.

Twitter has proven itself not to be a tool of revolution, or a mechanism of change, but a mirror of the excitability and fickleness of the American zeitgeist. Mousavi was all but forgotten when Michael Jackson fatally overdosed. And on Twitter, Jackson wasn't just an 80's
pop star and plastic surgeon's paycheck. He became a humanitarian. A great humanitarian. The greatest humanitarian of his day. Again, the Chicago River flowed, only this time it was with the maudlin tears of children who would be denied another Michael Jackson album. And people whose only exposure to "Thriller" was the dance scene in "13 Going on 30" became aficionados, discussing which b-sides were tragically overlooked.

It would be generous to call Twitter a mile wide and an inch deep. Casual usage would measure its depth in atoms, at best. Supporting change in the world is fun, but only as it allows for narcissistic melodrama. It's hard feel good about yourself when child rape is part
of the story. It's tragic, but not exciting. Celebrity deaths and reality television allow for both.

D.B. Grady is a freelance writer and novelist. His debut novel, Red Planet Noir, is due in bookstores this November. He currently lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and can be found on the web at http://www.dbgrady.com.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/08/twitter-solidarity-on-the-cheap/23107/