Iran’s Tweets: Windows into Protests – or Digital Mirrors?
The Tweets are coming in furious and fast from Iran’s growing pro-democracy movement. And it’s hard not to get caught up in the sense that all of Iran is getting swept up in internet-powered protests.
Andrew Exum wonders whether our enthusiasm for social media can color our coverage of events. “Are we simply finding common cause with a technologically-assisted minority and confusing it for a popular movement?” he asks. “One observer of the Moldova protests noticed the way in which we Westerners get fascinated by “Twitter revolutions” because, hey! We use Twitter too!”
So is coverage of the post-election protests really all about gullible Westerners identifying with hip, young Tehranis, those middle-class kids with the hair gel and bad hijab?
After all, public opinion pollsters Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty claim in today’s Washington Post, “only a third of Iranians even have access to the Internet, while 18-to-24-year-olds comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all age groups.” The Post’s own pollster says the survey is out of whack, however.
Juan Cole, for one, ain’t buying it. “[O]bservers who want to lay a guilt trip on us about falling for Mousavi’s smooth upper middle class schtick are simply ignoring the last 12 years of Iranian history,” he writes. “It was about culture wars, not class. It is simply not true that the typical Iranian voter votes conservative and religious when he or she gets the chance. In fact, Mousavi is substantially more conservative than the typical winning politician in 2000. Given the enormous turnout of some 80 percent, and given the growth of Iran’s urban sector, the spread of literacy, and the obvious yearning for ways around the puritanism of the hard liners, Mousavi should have won in the ongoing culture war.”
It’s not just about reformers vs. conservatives, or middle class vs. working class. It’s also about electoral fraud. Speaking yesterday on C-Span, Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace noted that Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s main rival, was trounced on his home turf, the Iranian province of Azerbaijan. An ethnic Azeri losing in Azerbaijan, he said, was “the equivalent of Barack Obama losing the African-American vote to John McCain in 2008. It just doesn’t add up.”
And as pictures of today’s massive pro-democracy rally in Tehran shows, this isn’t just a few thousands online activists yammering in a digital echo chamber. What we’ve got here is a mass movement.
[PHOTO: Mir Hossein Mousavi's Facebook page]
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Monday, January 31, 2011
Iran’s Tweets: Windows into Protests – or Digital Mirrors? | Danger Room | Wired.com