I just discovered the power of Twitter a couple of weeks ago when we decided to add a Twitter feed to The Confluence front page. Little did I know how addictive it would be! I found I could learn about breaking news stories from reporters on the ground–before the stories were actually published or broadcast.
Back in the ’60s and ’70s we had underground newspapers that were passed out free on street corners. People had to find ways to bypass the status quo mainstream media and these newspapers gave outlets to new and exciting writers. In recent years, as the media has become even more corporate-controlled than it was in those days, people have used internet newsgroups and then the hunger for real news fueled the explosion of blogs that allowed direct communication of ideas among engaged citizens.
Last night at TC, we noted and dicussed the power of social media in the political process, as Iranians on the ground twittered news of the riots following the possibly rigged election by satellite, begging for attention and support from the West.
At some point last night on Twitter, someone proposed that everyone put the tag “#cnnfail” in their tweets to call attention to the fact that the U.S. media was ignoring the cataclysmic events taking place in Iran. It went viral and the topic made it up to number three on the trending topics list. One of our own Regency’s tweets is highlighted here.
As the Iranian election aftermath unfolded in Tehran–thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest their anger at perceived electoral irregularities–an unexpected hashtag began to explode through the Twitterverse: “CNNFail.”
Even as Twitter became the best source for rapid fire news developments from the front lines of the riots in Tehran, a growing number of users of the microblogging service were incredulous at the near total lack of coverage of the story on CNN, a network that cut its teeth with on-the-spot reporting from the Middle East.
For most of Saturday, Cnn.com had no stories about the massive protests on behalf of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was reported by the Iranian government to have lost to the sitting president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The widespread street clashes–nearly unheard of in the tightly-controlled Iran–reflected popular sentiment that the election had been rigged, a sentiment that was even echoed, to some extent, by the U.S. government Saturday.
Was the U.S. media deliberately ignoring the Iranian election story? I don’t know, but this morning Iranians were twittering that CNN was focusing cameras on the official news conference, while ignoring scenes of protesters being beaten in the background. A little more from the linked article:
Yet even as word of the urban strife, seemingly led by those posting to Twitter, spread next around the world on news networks like the BBC, NPR and the Times, CNN remained mostly mute. Even when the network’s Internet site finally posted a story late Saturday, the network’s first “story highlight” was, “Ahmadinejad plans rally after winning second presidential term.”
Increasingly, Twitter has become the go-to source for breaking news about any kind of notable event, be it an earthquake, terrorist attacks in Mumbai, or post-election riots in Tehran. Yet many Twitter users found CNN’s lack of attention to what could end up being one of the biggest stories in years appalling.
Google news has some links to foreign stories about cnnfail. And Politico has a story on “Twittering from Tehran.” Young Iranians were also communicating via Facebook. The London Times interviewed a young Iranian woman and speculated about the future for her and other women in Iran now that their hopes for change have been interrupted for now.
“It seems people were half dead before and suddenly everyone felt alive.”
Half dead because they were brought up in a society patrolled by religious police with the power to beat them for holding hands in the street. Alive because it was the first election in which women played a potent role, demanding an end to the inequalities they endured.
What happens now that the all too brief “Tehran spring” has been abruptly curtailed by the election result? Thirty years after Iran’s Islamic revolution, are the conservative male forces that control the country immune to the demands for reform?
The beatings by riot police, closure of universities and clampdown on foreign news websites yesterday, after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed an overwhelming victory, were targeted at the Facebook generation.
Will these women give in? Under Islamic law as it is enforced in Iran, a woman’s word counts only half as much as a man’s in court; a woman can inherit only half as much as her brother; and while men can divorce easily, a woman who wants a divorce will typically spend three to 10 years in court and automatically lose custody of daughters over the age of seven and sons over two.
“Changes have to be made,” said a 34-year-old political activist who asked to remain anonymous. Her first target would be headscarves, which are mandatory in Iran. “The least of the freedoms we need is the ability to choose what to wear. For women this is really an issue. Whenever you go out, you have to be vigilant because the moral police may not think it is appropriate and they may even take you to jail. A woman’s integrity is judged by the colour of your dress – well, isn’t that stupid?” THE symbol of the demand for reform is not so much Mir Hossein Mousavi, the 67-year-old main opposition candidate, who complained of election fraud yesterday, as his wife.
Wait a minute! I thought Obama said the big issue was fighting to allow Middle Eastern women to wear head coverings? Hmmm….
Seeing all this transpire on Twitter and here at TC last night, I kept having chills. Will we see this kind of populist fervor in the U.S. ever again? Will Americans continue to allow the corporate media to tell them what to think and feel? I and many other Americans feel such a kinship with Iranians today after what has happened, and it’s clear they are reaching out to us ordinary Americans.
Last night Iran cut all electricity and closed down access to the internet and social media, but some determined Iranians still got through. There are bills moving through Congress right now to give the government greater control over the internet. What will we do if such a shutdown happens here?