Friday, October 16, 2009

Cameras, Internet, RT@Action?

The June 2009 Iranian elections (incumbent Ahmadinejad vs. rival Mousavi) - famously fraught with corruption, voting fraud, etc. - raise important questions about the efficacy of electronic new media to do more than perform, present, advertise, and propagate lies that Keenen illuminates in both of his texts (443). This summer in the Middle East saw mass protests across cities in Iran at the immediate landslide victory of Ahmadinejad. Reports on the matter were censored by the government, so first journalists and then students and others employed new media, specifically, the internet.

Twitter was perhaps that which received most coverage namely because its use as a social media site was transformed and also because it prompted a quick reaction from the Iranian government -- proof of its power and threat. Iranian officials were able to track those transmissions made via phones, internet cafes, laptops. People went missing. At this point, however, news of this further corruption spread. The famed immediacy of high-speed internet connections seemed to actually kick in and the local went global perhaps faster than during crises past. Twitter users from around the glove re-tweeted the cries of Iranians, both echoing the crisis and diverting the trackers. Nodes spread forth amongst the web and sites like this even gave instructions on how to maximize the potential of one's Twitter account. The U.S. State Department allegedly asked Twitter to delay its site maintenance work so as to allow the tech-savvy Iranian Twitterers to keep in contact. (Washington Post article, 17.06.09, "Iran Elections: A Twitter Revolution?")

Here, only 10 years after Kosovo's televised and publicized destruction, technology and people's response time seems to have already advanced (albeit only fleetingly). Has this, the example of Twitter and Iran, actually improved the hopes of human rights activists? Has is strengthed ties between local chaos and global intervention? Within the Iranian conflict, people employed their mobile phones, computers, mobile cameras, blogs, social networking sites and more to spread word and reveal the corruption of Iranian law and police forces. The youtube video of the shooting dead of a young woman named Neda in the street during a Tehran protest was seen by millions of people in under 48 hours. Again though, how can the actual effect (barring shock) of this video be measured or quantified?

Is it perhaps due to Twitter's largely (an probably not so happily admitted) decentralized structure word spread so quickly? One vital advantage of Twitter was that rather than a single news source (ie CNN) shooting images of burning villages, here we saw and read and heard of user generated content (though granted, this chaos with the Iranian elections cannot come close in scale to that of Yugoslavia during the late 1990s). News of Iranian elections and corruption was unmediated by Christine Amanpour and instead flowed from the people to the people.

Many questions arise from this example, some as Keenen posed, and others that unique to this situation, concern simple publicity plots to confused actual Iranians, for example. Though Twitter seemed to provide us with the ultimate "close-ups" into the situation, which in turn prompted dozens of mainstream media articles, one wonders what the outcome was in Iran. (Keenen 447) Did the corruption end? Almost certainly not. Has the world moved on? Yes. So though the impact in Iran with Twitter was more exciting, perhaps more global, one must asks if the problem of new media activism has to do less with the local vs. global interests and more with the intensity with which outside nations and human rights organizations are willing and able to commit to strife across the world.

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