Iran's Information Age demonstrators, exploiting the capabilities of the social networking and "micro-blogging" service Twitter, surprised then threatened Iran's tyrannical mullahs. Tehran's thugs in robes suddenly discovered they could not control information within Iran. Kicking out BBC reporters used to separate dissidents from the global megaphone, but no longer. Now that mobile phones are essentially small computers, instant Internet access is widely distributed. Men, women and children hold a global link with audio- and video-recording capability in their palm.
Twitter is the latest in a line of "social media" phenomena spawned by the digital communications revolution. Social media like Facebook and MySpace connected users on the Internet. Twitter, which specializes in brief "text messages," bills itself as a service that answers the question, "What are you doing?" That message is shared with a group of friends or the world.
"Tweeting" Iranians let the world know they were launching street demonstrations and seeding an anti-regime rebellion.
Inside Iran, dissident Iranians used short text messages sent via cell phone to tell fellow activists where to assemble for street demonstrations. "Meet in 10 minutes at the corner of Kargar and Dr. Fatemi" suffices. Even if the secret police are monitoring phone communications (and they are), the dissidents can move and assemble quickly.
Text messages and Internet connections were the dissidents' ambassadors and reporters. In the days following Iran's disputed election, "Tweets" received outside of Iran informed the rest of the world of the demonstrators' aims and actions.
These small digital devices make everyone a potential reporter or a spy. Even the "accidental reporter" has near-instantaneous global reach. The cell phone-video of Saddam Hussein's execution in late 2006 is one example.
Rumors persist that the Iraqi government hoped "unofficial" imagery of the hanging would leak, providing additional verification that the devil was dead. The Iraqi government's utter embarrassment at the Shia taunts hurled at Saddam as the noose clinched his neck, however, challenge that rumor. The simple explanation beats the conspiracy theory: with the video capability in his palm, an observer shot the video surreptitiously because he could.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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