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15 June 2009

Twittering Iran Protests Could Revolutionize The Mindset Of A Generation

If you asked nearly any American under the age of 30 two weeks ago what they thought of Iran, it's unlikely you would have heard anything positive in response.

You might have heard about Iran's nuclear enrichment being a major threat to the security of the United States. Others probably would have told you about an ultra-conservative Muslim nation run by old men who hate everything America stands for. Some probably would have even brought terrorism into the conversation.

Few would have mentioned anything about a democratic process. Not many would have brought up a world-class scientific community whose universities breed some of the best math and science minds of anywhere in the world. And it's very likely that none would have brought up the fact that 70 percent of Iran's population was under the age of 30.

But after protests that have swept the country and galvanized a nation in one of its first showings of outright emotion for the world to see, those opinions could soon change. (PHOTO: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

I am 21 years old; born in 1988, nine years after the topple of Iran's western-supported government in favor of an Islamic Republic, and at the end of a brutal war with Iraq in which it is estimated between 500,000 and 1 million people lost their lives.

By the time I was old enough to realize the world outside of my immediate sight, all I knew of the Middle East was Saddam Hussein's failed attempt to invade Kuwait, civil war in Afghanistan, and whatever George Clooney and Marky Mark showed me in "Three Kings."

Then came George W. Bush, who proclaimed Iran as part of the so-called "Axis of Evil", hellbent to destroy America and its allies because "they hate our freedom."

But after witnessing the outpouring support for presidential reform candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi in the days leading up to last Friday's election, and more importantly, the reaction to the announced results by the candidates' supporters, it is clear to me that these people "hating our freedom" could not be further from the truth.

The truth is, they envy our freedom. They crave it. They are willing to die for it.

Democracy is by no means the only nor is it the best form of government, nor should it be imposed on any nation, but it is what Iranians were supposed to be partaking in Friday. Democracy means a presidential election by the people, for the people. Americans had the Bush/Gore vote controversy of 2000, but where were the hundreds of thousands of Gore supporters marching on the National Mall in Washington D.C., demanding a recount? They weren't. No Americans were incensed enough to make a statement that their vote did not reflect the will of the majority.

After standing Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won Friday's election with a near-unfathomable 63 percent of the vote, another controversy ensued. Mousavi's supporters felt Ahmadinejad had cheated; that he had stripped them of their dearest rights in a nation still strife with social inequality: the right to vote in a fair election. The right to manifest their voice in a physical presence. The right to democracy. And the right to a reformed Islamic movement that reflected the progressive mindset of hundreds of thousands of voters across the nation.

After the news broke, Iran's government acted quickly to shut down foreign news channels, mobile text messaging, and social networking sites. But Twitter remained, and it has been that 70 percent, many of whom are Mousavi supporters, who have taken to the Internet to make sure their voices are not silenced again.

The hashtag #iranelection has been flooded with "tweets" from Iranians in Tehran and other cities as protesters gathered in masses to voice their dissatisfaction with what they call a rigged election. A steady mass of updates regarding meetings, protest sites, photos, and video from those Iranians has combined with a "Twittersphere" of other users worldwide to establish a go-to place for accurate, real-time news on developments in Iran. Worldwide, the Twitter community denounced American news channels for a lack of coverage, indicting CNN with the hashtag #cnnfail.

It appears as though the Twitter community has learned from its mistakes in reporting the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008, when rumors ran rampant and false information spread like wildfire. A community of fact-checkers and a demand that information be sourced has kept the information coming in on Twitter on point and up-to-date.

But perhaps the most important facet of the Twitter universe reporting the Iranian protests has been the cohesiveness of the community. From Tehran to Toronto, Hamadan to Hamburg, Sananda to San Francisco, people have connected and found commonality in humanity - sharing the stories not just of a group people adament to be heard, but of an emotion that transcends race, location, and culture.

Monday, people shared IP addresses to keep people in Iran online and reporting. They shared videos with blogs like the Huffington Post, where a liveblog of events in Iran was constantly being updated with information via Twitter. And late Monday, after it became apparent the Iranian government was monitoring Twitter and possibly cracking down on those sending information to the outside world, people across the globe changed their location and time zone to Tehran in order to confuse authorities and keep those in Tehran safe from the government-supporting Basiji militia.

Some have been reluctant to call the massive protests in Iran a revolution. However, at least one revolution is already underway - a revolution of minds and viewpoints. A Pew study done in February indicated 65 percent of Twitter users were aged 18-34. It is that demographic that has become fluent in the language of the Internet and its possibilities, and it is largely that demographic that is stoking the fire of the Iranian Twitter Revolution.

Now, it could be that demographic, through experiences such as the Iranian protests, that sparks the dialogue that world leaders have failed to successfully engage in for so long.

And it could bring together a more understanding world of tomorrow.

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  1. Well said...I've been noticing the Tweeting rampage that has resulted from this election. You did point out the last big Tweet fest was Mumbai...but it was seven months ago. Perhaps Tweetfests are reserved for really big events.

    I agree Twitter is the place for the fastest news updates, especially for the 18-34 year olds. The fascinating thing is that this generation will continue to Tweet well into the future. Unless, something else makes Twitter obsolete.

  2. Meaningful, well-thought-out post. But I often wonder if Twitter is just feeding into our generation's (I was born in '84) Nintendo-raised laziness. Rather than actually getting out and DOING something, we tweet and type and click our way to...what?