The Revolution will be Tweeted: Activism in the Age of User Generated Content

The images coming out of the aftermath of the stolen election in Iran have ranged from inspiring to horrifying. Photos and videos depict streets flooded with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. There also are the visual results of such bold acts — those beaten and bloodied being tended to by their compatriots. With professional journalists sidelined by Iranian officials, much of this media is being produced by amateur journalists and distributed via the internet. Despite the extraordinary measures taken by the Iranian government to restrict information flow, grassroots communications continue. Cell phone service is cut, the movement of international journalists’ is restricted, and internet sites are blocked. Yet the pictures, videos and blog reports keep coming. Each a testament to the power of mixing human will with advanced technology.

Iranian oppositionists have been able to do this through a variety of innovative tactics. One is the use of internet proxies. These proxies allow internet users in Iran to connect to friendly computers through out the world in order to post information to the web. In addition, the social networking site, Twitter, has also proven extraordinarily valuable. Twitter allows users to post mini-blogs of up to 140 characters, called “Tweets.” Updates about demonstrations, news from the streets and links to photos and videos have all tweeted their way past government censors. Twitter is, unlike say Facebook, decentralized. Each individual Twitter site is connected to a network of other sites. Users can post without ever going to a central Twitter home page.

Ok, so why hasn’t the Iranian government just turned off the internet completely? The answer was provided on a recent edition of All Things Considered — since there is such a high level of internet use by all sectors of Iranian society, turning it off would bring everything to a standstill. A kind of digital general strike. This is the social power that opposition organizers are leveraging. The actions of the censors are just minor roadblocks. In the end, Ahmadinejad needs the internet as much as the protesters do.

The street protests in Iran are not the first international events to use the internet to globalize struggles. Youtube video releases introduced the world to the recent G20 demonstrations in London and the anarchist led uprisings in Greece. Viewers could watch the dignified speech of Tony Benn in Trafalgar Square or the successful anarchist arson of the main Christmas tree in Athens. Internet resources have become fundamental not only to the new globalized economy, but also to social protest.

Cyber-protest had a powerful beginning. In 1999, WTO protestors in Seattle used the internet to release updates and to project on the ground actions to the world. Strategically placed video cameras brought internet viewers into the streets of Seattle to witness running battles between police and demonstrators. A network of de-centralized alternative media sources developed out of this event, including the Indymedia network. These networks, designed specifically for the purposes of publishing user generated content, are meant to circumvent mainstream media sources. They have become a main source for communication amongst activists. Today, mainstream developers such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have adapted many of these innovations and are presenting corporate-owned user-directed mass alternatives.

There may, however, be a downside to all this information sharing. This came to head during the recent student takeovers in New York City, of The New School and New York University. Internet organizing certainly played a useful role in the moments leading to the occupation and the organization of solidarity demonstrations during the events. However, live streams from inside both occupations revealed internal debates and the unpreparedness of some of the occupiers. In one instance, a New School occupier, returning to his dorms for a shower, used YouTube to share a summary of the occupiers’ debates about defending themselves against the police. Foes in the administration and the New York Police Department were one click away from this information. A communications strategy for activists that carefully considers the potential audiences of their electronic media is clearly needed. Not all exposure is necessarily desired.

In the end, there is still no substitute for good old face-to-face organizing. Yet, it is comforting to know that when the time comes to organize, a world of sympathizers are just an upload away. So, readers might take some time out to send a tweet out to a pro-democracy demonstrator in Iran or even upload a video of your latest protest. The world awaits you.

Kristin Schall is the chairperson of the Socialist Party-USA, NYC Local. She can be contacted at: Read other articles by Kristin, or visit Kristin's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on June 25th, 2009 at 10:57am #

    Clever use of a “non-article” for propaganda purposes! The article essentially says nothing but at least two unsupported assertions are casually made in passing as if they were established fact. First, the “stolen” election in Iran. All the evidence, of course, suggests that the election wasn’t stolen! Second, the “anarchist-led uprisings” in Greece, meaning, of course, the youth demonstrations of some time ago. Hardly an “uprising” and certainly not more than one, and the demonstrations seem to have been spontaneous, in response to a particular event. Not an anarchist in sight and certainly no sign of one doing any leading!

    I was taught that propaganda trick in Catholic school 40 years ago!

  2. Shabnam said on June 25th, 2009 at 11:53am #

    What is the purpose of this silly note at this site?
    “So, readers might take some time out to send a tweet out to a pro-democracy demonstrator in Iran or even upload a video of your latest protest. The world awaits you.”
    To tell us that we should support the voice of ‘democracy’ fomented by NED, Non-violent Center headed by a Zionist billionaire who have brought number of “color revolution” around the world and now is working on his stupid “Green” one?
    Louis Proyect writes
    [Ackerman founded the International Centre on Non-Violent Conflict (ICNC) and is responsible for all its funding.

    It has always worked closely with the Albert Einstein Institute [AEI] — a group that does work closely with the US government and the notorious National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Duvall gives a false impression that his organization is totally isolated from US foreign policy elites.
    His close associate is DuVall who claims ICNC does not receive funding from US government but according to Michael Barker:
    [A]although Duvall claims the ICNC “ha[s] not and will not accept any support from any government for any purpose”, it has always worked closely with the Albert Einstein Institute [AEI] — a group that does work closely with the US government and the notorious National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Duvall gives a false impression that his organization is totally isolated from US foreign policy elites.]
    This is a Coup against Khamenie and his associates by the US/Israel with cooperation of a corrupt clergyman by the name of Akbar Rafsanjani who is hated by majority of Iranian people but is loved by Zionists and his puppet OBAMA. Mir Hussein Mosavi is a puppet of corrupt Iranian business class head by Rafsanjani and sell out ‘intellectuals’, like Sadeq Ziba Kalam and Journalist Ahmad Zaid Abadi, and former impotent president Mohammad Khatami who are pro American project “The New Middle East.” Mir Hussein Mosavi must be aware of this coup supported by Israel his puppet OBAMA in the US to insist on his STUPID POSITION despite the fact that he has caused so many damages and lost of life yet he insists on his lies BECAUSE HE HAS PROMISSED HIS SUPERIORS TO DELIVER IT FOR THEM. He is already a traitor in the eyes of Iranian people. He should be arrested immediately and put on trial as a traitor. I’m sure the Khamenai’s camp is not that stupid to move on him right now. They know this is a coup where was planned before the election because US/Israel had the knowledge that Ahmadinejad is the winner of the elections against Mosavi, their puppet and Karrubi who received only 0.88 of the votes is supported by ABDUL KARIM SOROUS, a sellout ‘religious intellectual’ who like Shireen Ebadi, an agent, were chosen as “100 influential people in the world’ by empire’s magazine, TIME. Down with all of them. Iranian people with more than 62 percent have spoken and chosen Ahmadinejad and are not going to be moved one inch by zionist puppet OBAMA who put the interest of Israel ahead of the interest of American people. Take your note somewhere else and do a serious study on Iranian history and struggle before going writing another note.

  3. Melissa said on June 25th, 2009 at 12:30pm #

    No solid opinions of my own here, it’s so hard to tell what the facts are. I will say that I am deeply suspicious of the activities in Iran . . . especially given that there were plans and budgets to destabilize, and that the nuke issue is so reminiscent of WMDs in Iraq.

    One thing I know for sure, I don’t believe repression of the Iranians is Obama’s concern, or the concern of anyone else that makes a tidy profit from all of this saber rattling.

    From what I saw in Mpls/St.Paul past summer, the right to free assembly, speech and to be secure in privacy of one’s home are not priorities within US borders -why should I believe that’s the principle behind all this media coverage and bluster?


  4. beverly said on June 25th, 2009 at 12:53pm #

    Oh joy. The media stooges have discovered Twitter – another lazy excuse for not practicing actual journalism. Does it really matter that journalists (or what passes for such) are being censored/restricted in Iran? Even with carte blanche to report, western media would only provide info that corroborates what the US govt/corp cabal wants the public to believe.

    How politicians can profess concern and despair (with a straight face) over the Iranian govt’s threat to its citizens’ freedom and democracy is beyond shameless. I guess it’s easy to do when there is no threat of US citizens being informed about their govt’s past and current role in overthrowing Iranian elected leaders. Before Mr. President goes a-waggin’ his finger at Iran for cracking down on protesters, he should take a look in his own backyard. Max Baucus had citizens who brought up the issue of single payer healthcare at a hearing arrested. When citizens here at home can’t even peaceably raise legitimate concerns in govt venues paid for by their tax dollars without being ignored or worst, I don’t think Obama or any other US politician has the moral authority to tsk, tsk other regimes.

  5. lichen said on June 25th, 2009 at 1:16pm #

    I’m very glad that massive amounts of people (70% of them not middle class) have taken to the streets for a civil rights movement in Iran; I support them, and I don’t think they are US-backed. The election was stolen, and it is sick and stupid to see some ridiculous conspiracy brandished here, the home of stolen elections; I wonder if all the anti-Bush stuff and the allegations of his stolen elections were actually a Palestinean/Russian led-coup?

  6. Shabnam said on June 25th, 2009 at 1:25pm #

    We say the same thing. Obama should not continue Zionist lobby’s destabilization plan and stop meddling in Iranian affairs. Why Obama’s supporters are so BLIND to see that? Is this too difficult to see? The difference between Bush and Obama is the rhetoric. Besides, Dennis Ross, Jewish Lobby, a fifth column, there is an Iranian monarchist by the name of Vali Nasr , a Zionist, who has been hired as an advisor to Richard Holbrooke in policy making related to Afghanistan and Pakistan although he has studied Iranian politics. As Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American expert has said: The US does not take advantage of people like me or Nasr who are specialist in Iranian affairs. He was offered a job with CHINA table, where he knows next to nothing. This has been reserved for members of the 5th column, Israel Lobby, to represent Israel’s interest in different capacity against others. Only pro Jewish Lobby has total control over the Middle East policy decision. Dennis Ross, who is widely known as Israel’s lawyer was involved in Palestinian-Israel negotiation team as an envoy and everyone knows the disastrous result of that selection. Now, Dennis Ross is deeply involved in the Iranian Coup against the government to implement the Israel Lobby’s mission. All signs show that Obama is doing his job very well by having a subordinate position. Ross is in the driving seat.

  7. Melissa said on June 25th, 2009 at 1:27pm #

    If I were a cat, I’d be chasing my tail right now. In other words, decent point, lichen.


  8. AM said on June 26th, 2009 at 12:01am #

    Well said lichen, well said.