on twitter and the iranian revolution

Demostration in silence in front of governmental TV station ... on Twitpic

Demostration in silence in front of governmental TV station ... on Twitpic

Way back in the first year of this blog, a little thing called Hurricane Katrina happened in this country. I was having kind of a slow week at work, and I sat in front of my laptop, day after day, watching the unfolding of a horror show that was fairly unprecedented in our country.

One of the things that amazed me, at the time, was the online community’s response. I found blogger after blogger who was doing something about the tragedy—the one I remember best being Liz at Badgerbag, whose daily messages from the Astrodome, where she was volunteering, were rage-filled and compelling. It wasn’t just that bloggers were blogging about their feelings—though that was going on too—but that they were actually doing things that helped people, and helped themselves through a period of emotional upheaval.

Flash forward five years to the present day, and it’s now Twitter that is allowing people to ‘do something’ in support of a situation that they are outraged about—theft of the Iranian election. I’ve been watching the hashtags #tehran and #iranelection over the past couple of days, and have been truly inspired by what I’ve seen, which is a community coming together in support of members at risk, who have developed an informal code of conduct (ie—don’t re-tweet using an Iranian’s Twitter ID; if you’re outside Iran, change your time zone & location to Tehran to confuse the Iranian military; change your profile picture to green to show solidarity with Moussavi’s supporters; don’t trust specific newly-created Twitter IDs, as they may have been created by the Iranian government to spread disinformation, etc.).

And that community is interested in viral expansion of support for the Iranian protesters. Within five minutes of the time that I posted a tweet saying that I didn’t know how to change the color of my profile picture, five different Twitter users responded to me with suggestions—2 of whom actually sent me a version of my profile pic in green. In fact, it can be a bit difficult, at this point, to find new info, because so many people are helpfully re-tweeting other’s responses. On the other hand, with the mainstream media being shut out of news coverage by the Iranian government, it’s the first place that many of us have heard about protesters being killed, or about the dorms at Tehran University being attacked by police.

It’s not just a visible show of support that people are manifesting, although that’s important. After reports that the Iranian government was shutting down cell networks and blocking activists’ Twitter accounts, people starting setting up proxy servers, and creating Denial of Service attacks against the state websites. One user even posted a guide on his blog, to explain to other users what they could do to help organizers in Iran. (Edited to add) And here’s a link to set up your home computer as an anonymous proxy for Iranians. I’ve linked to the Mac one, but there’s a Windows version too.

It’s a little humbling, to watch in real time as a father in Iran worries about his daughter, and tweets that he’s just heard that there are military police in the park that she was last in. And it can feel so far away, that park, and that girl—so far away that there’s nothing we can do to help. But every person reading this can do something to help that girl, right now. You can pick up the phone, and call your congressman, and tell him or her to ask the US to intervene. You can wear green to work tomorrow, even though it’s not St. Patty’s Day. In most big cities, you can find a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with the Iranians, and you can attend it.

What gives me hope about both of these examples is the fact that people are willing to do something. Social media is giving us new ideas about exactly what to do, but it isn’t capable of making us care about something if we’re truly apathetic about it. The world wants to help.

(Note: Here’s a link to the Twitpic photo above–I couldn’t make it work with html.)


June 16, 2009. meta, politically motivated. 5 comments.