Thursday, June 18, 2009


Tweet-tweet vs. bang-bang

by Larry Geller

Mike Lukovich’s cartoons seem tuned in to the power of the electronic revolution. They’re copyrighted, so I can’t reproduce them here, but check out this one and this one. Ok, this one too. I hope the links remain good. His website and cartoon archives are here.

Can Twitter and citizen journalism really defeat the repressive Iranian regime? Here’s a snippet of a New York Times op-ed you might want to read in its entirety:

For the first time, the moderates, who were always stranded between authoritarian regimes that had all the powers of the state and Islamists who had all the powers of the mosque, now have their own place to come together and project power: the network. The Times reported that Moussavi’s fan group on Facebook alone has grown to more than 50,000 members. That’s surely more than any mosque could hold — which is why the government is now trying to block these sites.

Second, even if defeated electorally, the Islamists and their regimes have a trump card: guns. Guns trump cellphones. Bang-bang beats tweet-tweet. The Sunni Awakening in Iraq succeeded because the moderates there were armed. I doubt Ahmadinejad will go peacefully.

And that brings me to Netanyahu. Israel was taken by surprise by events in Lebanon and Iran. And Israeli officials have been saying they would much prefer that Ahmadinejad still wins in Iran — not because Israelis really prefer him but because they believe his thuggish, anti-Semitic behavior reflects the true and immutable character of the Iranian regime. And Israelis fear that if a moderate were to take over, it would not herald any real change in Iran, or its nuclear ambitions, but simply disguise it better. [NY Times, The Virtual Mosque, 6/16/2009]

I would like to add my own take to those of the experts. To wit:

There’s a fundamental difference between the way Internet resources (and cellphone texting, etc.) are being used in Iran and in Europe and how they are being used in the USA, for example, to get Obama elected.

Obama was not the head of the Internet movement that helped push him over the top. Martin Luthor King was the head of his movement, he lead the marches, he addressed the crowds. Obama used the Internet, and continues to use it, as a way to raise money and gather support. He goes his own way, disillusioning and disappointing many of his electronic supporters, but comes back to them nevertheless for support.

Last Saturday was used to whip up support for his healthcare plan, for example. Of course, the plan doesn’t exist yet. By the time it gets out of Congress it will bear no resemblance at all to the single-payer system that the majority of his supporters really want. It will be something acceptable to the insurance and healthcare industry lobbyists who have been circulating around Washington like flies.

This use of the Internet is not a grassroots effort at all, because Obama isn’t offering his supporters what they want or believe in. He’s asking for money, and did so again this week in an email.

In Iran at present, and during the recent European actions (which hardly made it into your newspaper at all, of course), the movement leaders used Twitter, Facebook and other communication resources to communicate with their followers and the world. Same in Burma during the most recent resistance actions.

We’re being telemarketed, while in Europe and elsewhere they are trying to change their government. We’re acting like sheep, they are acting like tigers. It’s the same Internet. What we do with it is the difference.

Update: Another point of view on the extent of Twitter usage in Iran is here: Iran: Before You Have That Twitter-Gasm….

… This afternoon, I emailed UCSD professor Babak Rahimi, the author of “Internet & Politics in Post-revolutionary Iran” and someone who is in Tehran right now covering the events. I asked what he thought of my hunch that we in the Western press are over-hyping the impact of Twitter.  Here’s what he said:

“I very much agree with you. The Twitter factor is present, but not as significant as, say, cell phone or social networking sites… [granted, it's hard to separate these out -- nms] I just wonder (or worry) how the U.S. media is projecting its own image of Iran into what is going here on the ground.”


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