Whether you watch traditional media or get your news online, it is only thanks to citizen reporters that we knew what was going on during the June riots in Iran.
Ahmadenijad’s forces were doing all they could to shut down social media communication channels; Facebook and YouTube have both been blocked in Tehran. But Twitter was widely used to get the news and images out to the rest of the world (once the mobile network was working).
And for those that don’t follow Twitter, it didn’t really matter – television broadcasting will never be the same again. Fox News was the first one to set aside regular programming and only focus on the photographs and tweets coming into studios. For some hours, it was the only major network broadcasting bring the sights and sounds up people protesting on the streets of Tehran and other cities across Iran. It gave Fox an immediate competitive edge with an audience spike as Americans tuned in to keep up with the events.
Fox News chose to go global, while CNN and MSNBC stuck with their usual programming, broadcasting continuous coverage of the escalating political crisis and chaos in the streets with vivid photos and messages from protestors. Eventually, the other stations caught on and changed from the usual programming to focus on Iran events.
Twitter has broken through press censorship in Iran. It’s allowing reports from citizens that would have been suppressed to be exposed to a wide audience. Obviously we have to be cautious in how we react to the information. We must never take everything on face value and ensure that we aren’t being duped by someone manipulating anonymity. However, with the users claiming to be Iranian giving updates with consistent stories, we can perhaps assume that most of these people are offering legitimate and authentic views from Iran. On top of anecdotal stories we’re getting a stream of pictures and videos of scenes on the streets.
Twitter can be a powerful tool.