This isn’t the first time that Twitter has beaten traditional news sources at their own game (the Hudson River plane crash, on the ground reports of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, earthquakes in Frisco). It is, however, the first time that I’ve seen the social media outlet really generate interest and support for a social cause that otherwise would seem very far removed.
With foreign journalists banned from Iran, Twitter has allowed unprecedented access with updates varying from how to protect oneself from police during a protest, to chilling up to the minute accounts of police brutality. The tweets are honest and compelling in a way that can’t be achieved through a traditional news article- and the community has taken notice. The outpouring of solidarity from Twitter users around the world has been impressive, with over 160,000 users turning their avatars green and many changing their time zones to coincide with Iran in an attempt to confuse the Iranian government. The State Department even asked the site to delay planned maintenance so as not to interrupt the flow of information.
Twitter hasn’t been the only social media outlet providing information; first hand videos are being uploaded on Youtube en masse via channels such as CitizenTube, and CNN’s iReport coverage of the election has provided an outlet for all types of user-generated content.
While Twitter, Youtube, iReport, etc have helped foreigners to begin to understand the situation in Iran, it has also facilitated something more important – helping Iranians to organize and take action. We can’t know yet how this is going to pan out, but social media may very well have a dominant influence in the results.