Did the Iranian “Twitter Revolution” actually happen?

Paul Raven @ 11-06-2010

You know, I’m always advising people not to believe everything they read, but I’m just as bad at doing it as anyone else – we all give credence to the stories we want to believe, I guess (and hell knows that media companies know how to exploit that).

So, remember the Twitter Revolution in Iran? That there was a revolution is not in question, but that the revolution was powered by social media? That’s not so clear [via MetaFilter]:

… it is time to get Twitter’s role in the events in Iran right. Simply put: There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran. As Mehdi Yahyanejad, the manager of “Balatarin,” one of the Internet’s most popular Farsi-language websites, told the Washington Post last June, Twitter’s impact inside Iran is nil. “Here [in the United States], there is lots of buzz,” he said. “But once you look, you see most of it are Americans tweeting among themselves.”

A number of opposition activists have told me they used text messages, email, and blog posts to publicize protest actions. However, good old-fashioned word of mouth was by far the most influential medium used to shape the postelection opposition activity. There is still a lively discussion happening on Facebook about how the activists spread information, but Twitter was definitely not a major communications tool for activists on the ground in Iran.

[…]

To be clear: It’s not that Twitter publicists of the Iranian protests haven’t played a role in the events of the past year. They have. It’s just not been the outsized role it’s often been made out to be. And ultimately, that’s been a terrible injustice to the Iranians who have made real, not remote or virtual, sacrifices in pursuit of justice.

I’m starting to wonder if a faith in the hierarchy-corrosion of modern communications systems isn’t becoming a core plank of what, for want of a less contentious or partisan label, we might call the postmodern progressive liberal platform. Maybe because we feel ourselves to have been liberated from something by the internet (even though we’re not sure what it is that we’ve been liberated from), we think that it can deliver liberation to others from things that are far more oppressive and powerful (at least at the level of curtailment of individual freedoms) than we have the context and experience to understand? That political revolution can be as safe, easy (and fun!) as our spare time whiled away on social media? (See also: the illusion of participation produced by slacktivism.)

Or maybe it’s just old-fashioned and fallacious Golden Age pulp technophilia: “Twitter is the future! The future is something we progress toward! Democracy in Iran would be progress! Therefore Twitter will help create progress toward democracy in Iran!”

I’m having a weird week; I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how we make pretty much everything into a story that reflects what we already believe to be true. The trouble with dwelling on that for a while is that you reach a point where you realise that, if that assumption is true, then that assumption is also part of a narrative that’s reinforcing itself through you. Which is a pretty weird psychological and philosophical paradox… not to mention being remarkably unconducive to getting anything practical done.


Crowdsource your plot snags: Twitter as brainstorming tool

Paul Raven @ 08-12-2009

I expect many of the writers in Futurismic‘s readership are already using Twitter to communicate with colleagues and friends across the globe… but have you considered putting it to the more practical use of getting people to help you brainstorm your plot problems? PR maven Steve Rubel points to a friend of his, Jeff Kirvin, who has done exactly that.

Personally, I think I’d struggle to ask the hive-mind a question that specific about something I was writing; outsourcing some of the imaginative process would probably derail the pleasure and focus of creation for me, I think. Do you lot ask for help on sticky plots, or do you conquer the mountain alone?

And speaking of help with plot points, I got an email from one Helen Callaghan informing me that she’s hosting a guest blogger whom you might want to ask questions of:

Marcus Chown, popular science author of We Need To Talk About Kelvin [and cosmology consultant to New Scientist – Ed.] will be guest blogging on my site!

He’s agreed to answer science questions from SF writers, so the idea is, if you’ve got a plot issue or setpiece that’s bugging you, or you ever wondered what would happen if a certain scenario came true, here’s your chance to get an expert opinion.

The idea is that we can start asking questions now by posting them in the comments on the site, and the answers will be posted on the 11th.

Thanks, Helen; that gives you a few days, so pop over and leave your questions if you got ’em.


‘Microvolunteering’: Doing good through social media

Tom Marcinko @ 03-07-2009

tweetNobody expected Twitter to be as useful as it’s turned out to be. Maybe this will work, too. National Public Radio has a story about The Extraordinaires, which is not a 60s British spy show but a social-media enterprise that encourages brief bursts of volunteerism.

Through The Extraordinaries, you might be able to use your smart phone — while waiting in the dentist’s office or standing in the Dept. of Motor Vehicles line — to:

• translate a foreign-language document into English

• add identifying tags to photos and videos for a museum

• give advice to a college applicant

During your lunch break you could snap a picture of a pothole that needs patching and zap it to the proper authorities. You could report a dying elm to the parks-and-recreation department or spot a rare woodpecker for the Audubon Society.

“This is an organization that changes the paradigm,” says Jacob Colker, 26, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Extraordinaries. “We hope people might look differently at that ride on the bus and not just play video games.”

Skepticism is healthy, too, of course. I’m still on crowdsourcing 101, myself, but unintended consequences can sometimes be positive.

[What are you doing? by wharman]


A hashtag for genocide: Twitter, the Iran elections and the moral ambivalence of social media

Paul Raven @ 20-06-2009

We raised this subject in the wake of the Georgia revolution, but it’s worth bringing up again. In the light Twitter’s starring role in the current election protests in Iran, there’s much talk of the power of social media as a catalyst and enabler for social change, but as Jamais Cascio points out, the morality of a tool depends on the people wielding it… and it’s not hard to imagine it being put to much darker uses, much as other media have been before.

Not because I have any sympathy for Iran’s government, I should hasten to say, or because I see any threat coming from this particular use of Twitter. It scares me because of how close it aligns with something I noted in my talk at Mobile Monday in Amsterdam earlier this month, an observation that happened almost by accident.

In noting the potential power of social networking tools for organizing mass change, I thought out loud for a moment about what kinds of dangers might emerge. It struck me, as I spoke, that there is a terrible analogy that might be applicable: the use of radio as a way of coordinating bloody attacks on rival ethnic communities during the Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s. I asked, out loud, whether Twitter could ever be used to trigger a genocide. The audience was understandably stunned by the question, and after a few seconds someone shouted, “No!” I could only hope that the anonymous reply was right, but I don’t think he was.

Certainly a point worth considering; no doubt there’ll be a backlash – against Twitter, or whatever the latest flavour-of-the-moment equivalent is at the time – once more people start asking the same questions as Cascio has. It should be a self-evident truth, but we need to remember that technology alone won’t make the world a better place; it’s up to us to use it in the right ways.


I think, therefore I Tweet

Edward Willett @ 20-04-2009

460px-EEG_32_electrodes WIRED reports on what “may be a modern equivalent of Alexander Graham Bell’s ‘Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.’:

Early on the afternoon of April 1, Adam Wilson posted a message to Twitter. But instead of using his hands to type, the University of Wisconsin biomedical engineer used his brain.  “USING EEG TO SEND TWEET,” he thought.

The research, which could provide a new means of communication for people locked in their own skulls by paralysis or other problems, is built on the BCI2000, a software tool pioneered by Justin Williams, head of the University of Wisconsin’s Neural Interfaces lab, and Wadsworth Center neural injury specialist Gerwin Schalk, which translates thought-induced changes in a scalp’s electrical fields to control an on-screen cursor.

Although it’s in wide use in labs, notes WIRED, “its communications applications have been largely restricted to messages appearing on a nearby screen. “

“A lot of these have been scientific exercises, geared to writing things out but not really doing anything with it,” said Williams. “We wanted to say, that’s not how a person would want to communicate, especially with the advent of online communications.”

Williams notes that emailing is relatively difficult and inefficient for someone using a brain-computer interface. Twitter, by contrast, “is very serendipitous. It handles all the things that we’ve been struggling to make easy for a patient to do. It puts messages where people can find them. Let the world know how you’re doing, what you’re thinking, and they’ll find you. And that’s perfect for these patients and their families.”

So brain-computer interfaces are already here for limited uses (Wilson and Williams will next install the program in the homes of 10 people already outfitted  with trial versions of the BCI2000). In the future, more advanced brain-computer interfaces could help people control prostheses, powered exoskeletons, humanoid robots

Well, what would you do if you could control a computer with your thoughts?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[tags]brain, computers, disabled, Twitter[/tags]


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