It feels trite and clichéd to be writing about this, but kindof lacking somehow to be thinking about anything else. It’s all happening. Now.
By the time I saw this photograph it was already an icon – mere hours after it had been taken it was already everywhere – I first saw it on the front page of Reddit. It moves fast.
So what have we? Another colour revolution, though unlike the others – far less likely to go so smoothly. It’s up against classical, and well organised fascism with a theocratic base – rather than the threadbare carcass of a crumbling empire. It’s more likely to go the way of the Saffron one in Myanmar – or some clumsy ill-fitting compromise like Zimbabwe.
The notable thing about this though is that it’s being watched by people all over the planet, in English, in real time – mostly via Twitter. It’s fairly unique in this respect – whether this is going to set a trend for future events remains to be seen – the twittosphere has failed to show the same concern over Palestine, or any other flagrant abuse of power for that matter.
Twitter is getting information out to the world – and maybe contributing to flash-mobbery within Iran itself.
Although the Iranian authorities seem desperate to shut down all communication with the outside world, I’m not sure how much difference it actually makes – all this exposure. I guess if you have a platform based upon lies, it makes the lies untenable, so the platform feels less secure… but in real terms, large numbers of people making their icons green… What would the Evil Beards make of that? Maybe that’s the key to it – insecurity based on not really knowing what’s going on. Other than that, it’s hard to imagine them taking it seriously.
The whole tone of the twittersphere is a little too self-congratulatory for my tastes though. No one from any Western country, especially the US/UK has any right to feel the slightest shred of self-satisfaction on the subject of Iran. Our countries toppled a democratically elected government back in the 50s. We created this fuckup.
I think the “#cnnfail” business where the twittersphere is crediting itself with driving the news agenda is quite possibly bullshit as well. The mainstream media may have been a little slower on the uptake than the twittosphere, but they will be – they need to get reporters on the ground. They need to be filming stuff. They can’t just publish any old bollocks and get away with it… well, not so flagrantly.
Here’s a screen grab of #iranelection. How much of this is news? Useful information? 140-Chr chain-letters?
The twittosphere is not a news-service, it’s a meme-pool.
Whether this can offer a serious or credible replacement for paid and dedicated reporting is debateble. It hears what it wants to hear – it repeats what it likes the sound of. Truth does not necessarily confer competitive memetic advantage.
As far as I can see, The Iranian Twitter Revolution is being driven by a fairly small handful of people who are actually within Iran, and a fair few of these accounts were created purely for this purpose. They could be anyone. You could stage a fake revolution with about 10 people. The govt’s attempts to shut down web media are probably less effective than polluting the meme-pool with twitterers of their own – although maybe not… the signal-to-noise ratio is already pretty unbreathable. Someone even posted links to a Celine Dione song on Youtube, twittering something about children – in capital letters obviously. (seriously, check this screengrab out. That’s political discourse?)
I’m also slightly perturbed that people have fixated on Iran rather than any other conflict. Everyone already knows that Ahmadinejad is a bad guy. American Nazis are falling over themselves to accuse their saner opposites of being slow on the uptake, others calling for Obama to “do something” (suddenly it’s all about America again). Liberals are quite rightly showing a keen interest because Ahmadinejad’s faction are the opposite of everything they stand for. They’re right-wing, religious-fundamentalist, conservatives.
Ahmadinejad is an easy target. The Memosphere is emotionally primed to go to war against him.
It’s a great big pile-on, largely about display – similar in some ways to the Princess Di flower-fest. I’m betting that 1/2 the people “participating” couldn’t actually point to Iran on the map. It’s participatory entertainment – with massive amounts of self-satisfaction from people who have nothing at stake, nothing risked, and who’s countries are almost entirely responsible for creating this fuckup in the first place.
So is this the future of democracy? I doubt it. Memospheres don’t do news, they do rumours and feel-good factoids – and it’s rare for goodies and baddies to be so easily delineated. I’m guessing that sooner or later, someone’s going to try this on in somewhere like Venezuela, and it’s not going to work. Egypt? Pakistan? Anywhere in the whole of Africa with the exception of Zimbabwe? It’s hard to imagine. The Memosphere is fickle – witness the Anoymous spat with Scientology, which seems to have passed now. Power to the People. Yea? Which people?
One thing that this has done though – the Iranians are no longer our enemies. The brain-dead Bush-Era drumbeats for war now seem unthinkable.
edit : although on reflection, maybe this is all just a filtering problem, and I’m confusing twitter with hashtags.
You’re smart. You are right on this. I have a bit more belief in the power of genuine communication though. After the majority of the superficial pile on is discounted, I experience the impact of actual freedom through self-expression the web.
What I can’t understand is why the hell the powers that be allow everyone this power to the degree they do. Enjoy it while we can?
I think because our forbears had the foresight to balance various arms of government against each other. And they don’t know what the hell is going on. And things have gotten to the point where it would now be political suicide.
Government as we currently know is never going to be able to keep up with what’s up ahead. We need new forms I think, though what exactly I don’t know – and the architects of the new systems need to be just as smart as the architects of the old, because social media in its current state is not democratic – we can’t just throw it to the mob, because it will put too much power in the hands of whatever the 21stC incarnation of the 4th Estate is.