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The Twitter revolution debate: a summary

Dan Nexon:

Some comments from a friend of Iranian extraction, who kindly agreed to allow me to repost them here. … Finally, a note about Twitter. Twitter and Facebook and blogs are primarily for the protestors to reach outside Iran, not in the country itself. Furthermore, internet speed has apparently slowed to a crawl and mobile phone networks (and SMS capability) has been severely circumscribed. So, I’d be cautious about accepting at face value the accounts celebrating this as a “blogged” or “twittered” revolution! [emphasis mine].

Matt Yglesias:

Another issue is getting causal direction right. I frequently use my personal Twitter feed to coordinate plans with friends. Anyone interested in seeing such-and-such a movie? But it’s not as if the existence of Twitter caused me to start seeing movies with friends. Thanks to Twitter I now never use one-to-many SMS in order to organize movie going, and I use email for that purpose somewhat less than I once did. And thanks to email and Twitter and SMS, I never arrange movie plans over the phone, which is what I used to do. But, again, what’s going on here is the same old thing happening in a new medium, not the new medium actually allowing new things to happen. Insofar as Twitter becomes a more popular communications tool, popular protests will increasingly have a Twitter component. But that’s not the same as saying that Twitter is actually driving the political events.

Kevin Drum:

Twitter has been a great tool for the Iranian protesters — and for us. Marc Ambinder rounds up the evidence here. But protests have happened before without either Twitter or the internet. And if we westerners had to rely on only a single news source to tell us what what going on, I’d still choose the dwindling band of serious outlets that provide real reporting from dangerous (and expensive) places. Cable news may not have covered itself with glory this weekend, but there are still a few precincts of the MSM that did.

Dan Drezner:

Twitter is serving two different purposes in Iran right now. Its first role is as a coordination device for Iranian supporters of Mousavi—much like events in Moldova from a couple of months ago. On this dimension, to be sure, it would seem that Twitter has facilitated coordination.
Well, except for one thing—the absence of Twitter does the same thing. According to the press accounts I read, Mousavi wanted to cancel yesterday (Monday’s) demonstration because the Iranian authorities had refused to grant permission and warned of bloodshed. The thing is, since Twitter and other methods of quick communication were down, there was no way to communicate the cancellation messaage to supporters. In other words, had Iranian authorities not interruped mobile services and the like when they had, Monday’s demonstration might have fizzled out. One wonders if the same dynamic will play out today. … Which, again, is not to diss Twitter. It’s merely to suggest that life is a bit more complex than simple memes of “this new information technology is supplanting all prior forms of information technology!”

Evgeny Morozov:

When you’ve got real riots in the street, Twitter-riots do not look that threatening. I do think that the Iranian authorities would become much more cautious and attentive to new media if Ahmadinejad’s regime would survive, but I don’t think they will get to their Twitter lists until mid-July or so.
Overall, I am skeptical about the claims that Twitter has been instrumental in organizing the protests. I grant that it may have been very influential in publicizing them. But I’d like to see tangible evidence that 10 random Iranians found each other via Twitter and – communicating in Farsi –actually planned a rally. I think we are still short of this – most of the reports I’ve seen about the use of Twitter have focused mostly on the role it played in publicizing the violence or the already planned protests and rallies.
I know that this different may seem subtle to some, but I think it’s very important that we do not give Twitter et al more credit than it deserves. … most of the evidence I’ve seen so far is inconclusive about the role that Twitter played in facilitating coordination among Tehran-based protesters (even though it has certainly made it easier for them to liaise with the outside world).
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