I have been thinking about this post for some time. I have been trying to wrap my brain around the effect of social media on the #iranelection My emotions have run the gamut from excitement to anger to disgust to frustration. At first I was so excited about the power of Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, and YouTube to show the world live what was happening in Iran. It reminded me of the big splash that CNN made by reporting live from the First Invasion of Iraq under Bush Sr. I remember vividly gathering around TV’s while I was in college to watch “live war.” For the twitter naysayers, CNN has managed to do OK after that.
This time though we had the common people “reporting” from everywhere.
In recent days I have learned from Twitter about the deaths of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Jeff Goldblum (whoops Twitter rumor), and now Billy Mays. I was shocked by MJ but McMahon and Fawcett were not surprising due to age and cancer. The response of their fans around the world is a bit too much for me.
Full disclosure I have never been a “fan” of any them. I have tried to relate to their fans and their behavior by thinking of what celebrity I am a “fan” of. First of all, I had a hard time thinking of who that would be. I am a big sports fan especially of the University of Michigan football and basketball teams. So I thought of Bo Schembechler, who passed in 2006. I remember being surprised but not too much because of his age and health issues, but I never was effected by it. I would never place flowers or gifts around a shrine to him. I felt no emotional loss at his death.
For me it comes down to mourning people I know personally, family and friends, not celebrities and sports heroes. Death is the natural end of all life and I am OK with that. It sometimes surprises me, but only effects me when it is personal or tragic like 9-11.
Getting back to Iran what really disturbs me is how fast our culture looks for the next train-wreck story. I do not blame the national media on this one. Check out the trends on Twitter and you can see that #iranelection is still there but there is a lot more attention on many other frivolous things. People would rather obsess about the natural deaths of MJ and the other celebrities than the tragic deaths of Iranians fighting to change the future of their country. My avatar is green to support them (As many others were, but I can’t help but notice that quite a few have changed their avatoars back to normal). For many the Iran election was an interesting story, but now it is over.
Sources from Iran tell a different story. For one the Iranian government is using the same social media as the activists to trap them down and arrest them (Read about that here). I had not heard any tweets for days from one activist until today when he tweeted about his friend being captured for days and interrogated. Another Iranian blog has a post from a friend because the authorities are looking for the blogger and have already arrested his brother. The Iranian activists are now in danger because of social media.
While I have read an interesting discussion about traditional media vs. social media and the how important is the role of traditional journalists in Will Richardson’s blog and comments. I think the bigger issue is the effect of social media on the people “reporting” the news. Iranians have turned to social media because the world is listening. They hold up signs in Farsi and English because they are talking not only to their government but to the world! The attention that they get through social media has empowered the Iranian students and they will not allow things to return to “normal” in their country because they have been heard. I believe that this is the true power of social media to empower those who have had no voice against the powerful.
Personally, one of the most disturbing things I have heard from Iran is this CNN interview. The reason that it haunts me is the desperation in the woman’s voice as she begs for us to help her: “You should stop this. You should help the people of Iran who demand freedom” (about 3 min. in and 5 min. in). Most of the Youtube videos that I have seen do not really have much audio, but this woman’s emotions are so raw. The interviewer obviously is uncomfortable and tries to ask another question, but her desperation is clear.
My final thoughts are frustration at feeling like I can not really help them. But oh we can. We can keep re-tweeting their posts and keep giving them support. Educators do not forget about Iran. Re-tweet, Re-tweet, Re-tweet!
I’ve posted about this to Twitter, so I won’t rehash my point too much here. But I worry that when I use the #iranelection tag on twitter, I may be preventing Iranians from monitoring issues relevant to their immediate, lifesaving security and long-term health.