The map above makes up just under half of a TIME.com article by Thomas P. M. Barnett that so inanely oversimplifies African geopolitics (Muslim terrorism! China is scary!) that I’m almost at a loss for words. Shame on you, Barnett, and shame on Time for posting this.
I side with those — David Weinberger, Zeynep Tunecki, and others — who have responded to Gladwell by saying that attempting to cleanly separate online and offline media (or connections, or actions) is a futile pursuit. Social media are an integral part of a new media ecosystem, one in which bloggers are amplified and inspired by more traditional forms of media and in which mainstream media outlets increasingly partner with citizen journalists to provide the most complete coverage they can.
Throughout the forum, panelists have repeatedly raised this theme, arguing that framing media as old versus new or mainstream versus citizen is not a productive approach to understanding the impact of online networks. Speakers who work with major news outlets have thanked bloggers for sharing their first-hand accounts of what’s happening on the ground, while bloggers have thanked major news outlets for broadcasting their reports. In a break-out discussion on Saturday, citizen journalists from Tunisia and Egypt said that Al Jazeera’s amplification of their voices helped bring the situations in these countries to a tipping point.
This idea of a media ecology is one I’ve been mulling over as I’ve been working with the Technology for Transparency Network over the past year. We’ve interviewed more than 60 organizations who use digital tools to promote transparency and accountability in their governments, and one of our key conclusions has been that organizations who build partnerships with traditional media organizations — whether these are local radio stations or major national newspapers — tend to have more success than organizations that rely solely on the Internet to get their message across. For me, it’s been interesting to hear that this is the case not only when talking about city budget transparency, but also when talking about revolutions.
I don’t think this in any way diminishes the importance of social media in the movement for government accountability. In many cases, both local radio stations and national papers (and, as I’ve heard this weekend, Al Jazeera) would be unable to report on the stories they cover without the help of bloggers and tweeters. I’m glad to see that those who are here at the forum — both traditional and citizen journalists — are willing to exlore these partnerships and acknowledge their importance.
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“This is it. The big one…. It’s Twitter.” For those of you who haven’t been following the media hype surrounding Iran’s is-it-or-isn’t-it-a “Twitter Revolution,” that’s Clay Shirky, speaking four days after the June 2009 presidential elections. Ouch. Awkward.
“This is it. The big one…. It’s Twitter.”
For those of you who haven’t been following the media hype surrounding Iran’s is-it-or-isn’t-it-a “Twitter Revolution,” that’s Clay Shirky, speaking four days after the June 2009 presidential elections.
It’s not that Shirky was alone in his enthusiasm, nor was he the first to champion Twitter as a revolutionary force in Iranian politics. Andrew Sullivan of The Atlanticwrote of the protests, “You cannot stop people any longer. You cannot control them any longer. They can bypass your established media; they can broadcast to one another; they can organize as never before,” and the New York Timeschimed in with an article on how “new kinds of social media are challenging those traditional levers of state media control and allowing Iranians to find novel ways around the restrictions.”
It’s more that…well…nothing much has changed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still in power, and a recent study found that less than one percent of Iranians — 0.027 percent, precisely, though that number likely includes foreigners who changed their profile location last summer — are on Twitter.
Shirky shouldn’t feel too bad, though. Evgeny Morozov, who’s made quite a name for himself bashing “cyber utopians” for their uncritical love of all things social media, is responsible for the phrase “Twitter Revolution,” which he first applied to Moldova in April 2009. Boing Boing‘s Xeni Jardin appropriated the meme in GOOD magazine during Guatemala’s May 2009 political unrest. I myself am guilty of propagating it – on Twitter, no less – in Uganda after the September 2009 riots in Kampala.
Still, despite all the hype (and no matter how much we wish it were so), none of the so-called “revolutions” in Iran, Moldova, Guatemala or Uganda have lead to substantially different governments. Rather than reflecting actual politics, the Twitter Revolution seems to be largely a product of the media, both mainstream and social. “Western journalists shifted their focus from the role of Iranian people to the role of technology,” Ethan Zuckerman says of the June 2009 media coverage. In the October issue of Information Today, Morozov wondered if the emphasis on Twitter took critical focus away from the politics and history behind the event: “It certainly made an impact in how the events were covered in the West…. It probably stole from the protesters, because instead of discussing what was happening, a quarter of American media coverage was devoted to what so-and-so said on Twitter.”
I tend to agree with anthropologist Maximilian Forte, who conducted a study of the election-related tweets and related media coverage between June 13 and 17, 2009. Forte’s research led him to conclude: “This is indeed a ‘revolution’…but it’s for Twitter.”
Was Twitter a revolutionary force in Iran? I don’t think so. Was Iran a revolutionary force in how the average American views Twitter? Definitely, unquestionably yes. The Twitter Revolution — or revolutions, if we’re being fair to Moldova, Guatemala and Uganda — is the big one. Just not the one we were hoping for.