Social media in times of political crisis: six "lessons learned"

In the New York Times, this thoughtful piece by Noam Cohen on the links between online communication tools and political crises -- namely, the ongoing turmoil in Iran:
# Tweets Are Generally Banal, but Watch Out

"The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful," says Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard law professor who is an expert on the Internet. That is, tweets by their nature seem trivial, with little that is original or menacing. Even Twitter accounts seen as promoting the protest movement in Iran are largely a series of links to photographs hosted on other sites or brief updates on strategy. Each update may not be important. Collectively, however, the tweets can create a personality or environment that reflects the emotions of the moment and helps drive opinion.

# Buyer Beware

Nothing on Twitter has been verified. While users can learn from experience to trust a certain Twitter account, it is still a matter of trust. And just as Twitter has helped get out first-hand reports from Tehran, it has also spread inaccurate information, perhaps even disinformation. An article published by the Web site True/Slant highlighted some of the biggest errors on Twitter that were quickly repeated and amplified by bloggers: that three million protested in Tehran last weekend (more like a few hundred thousand); that the opposition candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi was under house arrest (he was being watched); that the president of the election monitoring committee declared the election invalid last Saturday (not so).

Twitter on the Barricades (New York Times)


  1. “How does one become an “Expert on the internet”? “

    Answer: On the internet, everyone is an expert.

  2. some say that twitter helped those in the Iranian crisis – truth is, the Iranian crisis probably just saved twitter… it is inane and the usage was dropping rapidly until this Iranian election. it will probably still drop off the radar…
    (I also am an ‘expert’ on the internet) unless some crossover use arises or evolves

  3. “it is inane and the usage was dropping rapidly”

    On what planet?

    It was just becoming interesting. Now it’s a propaganda organ. Sad. Will there ever be a P2P channel that doesn’t have a ‘solution’ imposed?

  4. Primary source information isn’t source information until it’s been confirmed and verified as accurate. As a means of communication twitter provides almost no implicit authoritative value. There are very few vectors by which to verify the authenticity or origin of works placed in that domain. Twitter’s strengths as a tool of those engaged in creating history, are also it’s weaknesses in recording that very same history. A double edge sword that we’ve seen often in the past.

    It’s also wise to remember that, twitter’s usefulness in Iran disappears entirely within the continental US. It’s usefulness is very much tied to the region in which it is deployed as a tool.

    But, that being said… primary source information is the most valuable form of information in the collection of historical data. Without it, we’d have only the filtered recordings of periodicals and other secondary source outlets, that may or may not be beholden to a publishing standard that deprives us of historical value.

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