The concept of a "Twitter Revolution," as challenged by Esfandiari and
others, is rooted in the idea that Twitter was the lifeblood of the Green
revolution. Taking this definition, Esfandiari and other critics are
right: Twitter was no secret weapon that magically made the Islamic
Republic disappear. "Twitter cannot stop a bullet," mused Charles Krauthammer on the Green Revolution's
anniversary. "There was a lot of romantic outpouring here thinking that
Facebook is going to stop the Revolutionary Guards. It doesn't. Thuggery, a
determined regime that is oppressive, that will shoot, almost always
wins." Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, now our bread and
butter, were more influential in mobilizing Diaspora Iranians and international
observers in solidarity rather than coordinating street protests inside Iran.
But while Twitter failed as an organizational tool, the Green
movement remains the first major world event broadcast worldwide almost
entirely via social media. Given the extent of the Iranian regime of
repression, the amount of information publicized real-time through social
networks allowed the international community an unprecedented peek into the
turmoil afflicting Iran. For the Greens, the international reaction to the
post-election violence gave the movement critical international visibility.
While crowd sourcing is now a familiar concept to even the marginally
tech-savvy, Twitter's use on a massive scale was rarely contemplated nor
executed prior to the Iranian election. The Green revolution was a Twitter revolution; while
social media fell short organizationally, it brought the violence in the
streets of Tehran to the forefront of the geopolitical conversation.
The unprecedented use of Twitter also situated the micro-blogging
service at the center of a global social transformation. The Green Revolution
was far from social media's political coming-out party; Barack Obama's media-centric
2008 presidential campaign was an early testing ground for new media as a means
for political communication and organization, and the practices pioneered there
quickly spread to other political movements around the globe. But it was the
critical role of Twitter as a lightning rod for international attention that
established it as a tool for political communication rather than outright
organization. Iran's post-election unrest was the micro-blogging service's
baptism by fire as a means to observe, report, and record, real-time, the
unfolding of a crisis.
Since the Iranian election protests, Twitter has provided eyes and ears in the
direst situations. The earthquakes in Haiti and Chile earlier this year
provided striking examples. With Haiti's communications infrastructure
virtually obliterated and cell phones an inconsistent lifeline, Twitter and
other social media provided a glimpse of conditions on the ground.
Mashable's Ben Parr reported that thousands of
Facebook and Twitter updates appeared every minute, while Twitter was used to
disseminate "moving and gut-wrenching TwitPics of the disaster. "Following
the 8.8 magnitude quake in Chile, Victor Herrero of USA Today wrote that in
Conception, the epicenter of the quake "social-networking tools
such as Twitter, Facebook and
some Google applications
have been at the forefront of transmitting highly localized information ... about
finding families and friends, food and water, ways to get transportation."
As in Iran, Hatians and Chileans used social media to create a mosaic of the
human drama on the ground. And the medium's potential as an organizational tool
continues to evolve, as we've seen in the case of South Korea's recent elections, narrowly overlapping with the
anniversary of last year's political unrest in Iran.
The Green Revolution in Iran was muzzled, sadly,
its political organs now defunct and its development totally stifled although the movement continues to put pressure on the Iranian regime a year after its initial protests. The Twitter Revolution, however, is far from over.