Tonight marks nearly a week of serious unrest in the Islamic Republic of Iran in the wake of a presidential election that by most any standards was rigged in favor of the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. For the first time in 30 years — since the Khomeinist revolution that birthed the current republic — the streets of Iranian cities are thronged by young protesters clamoring for freedom. Things seem to be going badly for the ruling elite. They obviously mismanaged the election rigging. Shutting down the cell phone text messaging system on the day of the election, and declaring a winner within 3 hours of poll closings when more people voted last week than any time in the history of the country were ham-handed to say the least.
Planning ahead, the regime did block ports to Facebook and other social sites, but, apparently they’d not heard about Twitter. Twitter became, very quickly, the de facto pipeline of information about the events unfolding inside Iran, and reaction to the uprising outside of the country. The regime very quickly lost control of the situation; and, the freedom movement, symbolized by the use of green, has grown and gained momentum, helped in no small part by Twitter. The two items in the title of this post, #iran and #iranelection are trending topics on Twitter Search, and have been near the top of all discussion topics all week. Green avatars are all over the site, and links and info are flying within the Twitter community. Many non-Iranian users have changed their time zone and their location to Tehran in an effort to thwart the Iranian Government’s efforts to track and persecute the dissident Twitterers within their population based on location and time zone searches.
It’s been an awesome spectacle to behold the courage of the Iranian people and a great privilege to do even a small bit to try and help them. Support for the Iranian’s efforts to win their freedom within the Twitterverse seems to transcend political, ethnic and geographical divisions. This is grass roots political action at its finest. The regime has done everything wrong in terms of a managing its PR but it has zero experience in the realm of openness, transparency and square dealings. Continuous muscle flexing and brutal repression of its population have left the leadership unable to respond in a way that is necessary in today’s global, 24/7 agora — in which it has never participated and openly scorned for years.
This week I tweeted the following:
Twenty years ago the brave students in Tiananmen did not have the internet, and certainly not Twitter. All coverage came from broadcast media channels and the world largely watched. The Iranians protesters have the power of technology on their side, a highly literate and young population (70% of Iranians are 30 years of age or younger, I believe), the overwhelming support of people around the world and two-way communication with them. This two-way communication could very well tip the scales against a brutal dictatorship and usher in a whole new way of life for a long-suffering country. A communication medium that many have called “revolutionary” is finally proving to be so in a literal, positive and powerful fashion with ramifications beyond customer service and engagement.