America’s Iranian Twitter Revolution

Which Revolution?

If the headlines had spoken of a “Twitter revolution in Canada,” a North American society with very widespread broadband Internet access, and almost complete Internet penetration, and one of the highest rates of personal computer ownership, one would have still needed to be very skeptical: 74% of Canadians surveyed have never even heard of Twitter, and only 1.45% of Canadians actually use Twitter, most of those being young, professionals, or in universities — as an active Canadian Twitter user, I am part of a minuscule minority (“74% of Canadians unaware of Twitter: online survey,” CBC News, 11 June 2009). The only Twitter revolution there could be in such a context then, is for anyone beyond that minority to actually use it — let alone challenge or transform an entire political system based on its use. That is not just true of Canada either: according to a study done by the Harvard Business School, only 10% of Twitter users generate more than 90% of Twitter content (“10% of Twitter users generate over 90% of content, study finds,” CBC News, 5 June 2009). A real Twitter revolution would be one that transcends the hype and Twitter self-promotion and sees most users generating the content.

While some, like Clay Shirky, will proclaim regarding this so-called “Twitter revolution in Iran,” that “this is it, this is the big one” (thanks to the “it” and the “one” are what are most in doubt. Yet it is doubt that is most absent from the analyses that have been hastily proffered — and when skepticism is absent from analysis, what are we left with? Hype, promotional propaganda, wishful thinking — a rush to the headline-grabbing punchline. Shirky thinks the whole world is watching, and he may be right, but he is wrong about Twitter and other social media.

This is indeed a “revolution”…but it’s for Twitter, this entity whose very existence resembles the classic story of the start up from the last dot com bust of the late 1990s, a “Bubble 2.0” firm operating in a recession no less, without ever producing a business plan, and yet getting $20 million here and $30 million there in financing (see this, this, this, and that). Twitter may be as irrelevant to Iran as it is good for the promotion of Twitter itself, and for the self-flattery of some ardent Twitter users who believe that their tweets and their green-tinted avatars will change the world, or at least Iran. The revolution will not only be tweeted, it will be fast and easy, and it will be led by Americans themselves, “for Iran”.

As part of my preparation for this article, I not only actively followed and participated in three of the Iranian election streams on Twitter, from 13 June (the day after Iran’s elections) to this morning, 17 June, I also collected a sample of 1,280 tweets, and skimmed all of the tweets about the Iranian election starting from 13 June. Among the statements praising Twitter, and the ways of using Twitter to “show support for the Iranian people”, I have collected these as representative examples:

  • RT Huffington Post: “Iran’s Revolution Will Be Twittered (and Blogged and YouTubed and…)”
  • The revolution will be tweeted
  • WOW, Twitter is awesome!!!
  • Yep Twitter Owns! #cnnfail #iranelection
  • astounding what twitter has done with #iranelection
  • thinks Twitter’s role in the #IranElection could be historical
  • thankyou twitter
  • We’re getting more news from social media than from traditional media. Social intelligence progress!
  • facinating [sic] how twitter brings real time accounts of events
  • It is pretty easy being green. Turn Your Twitter Avatar Green To Show Solidarity with People of Iran
  • My Twitter photo has gone GREEN in support of the freedom revolution of #IranElection

None of the Twitter users who made those statements are among even the allegedly Iranian Twitter users, and all except for one locate themselves in the U.S., the other in Canada.

Whose Revolution?

Yet, some would have us believe that there is a “Twitter revolution” going on in Iran, when there is no such thing. Not only that, what is being boasted about the power of Twitter is almost entirely false. What there is instead is a rush to the finish line, a predetermined conclusion to immediately thank and praise Twitter in the context of Iran’s street protests.

How representative are Iran’s Twitter revolutionaries? In actual fact, the only allegedly Iranian Twitter users who have been identified by other Twitter users as tweeting about the Iranian protests, are fewer than 45 (see one list here), most of whose locations cannot be confirmed and almost all of whom post only in English. Yet, one can get as many as 2,500 updates in a single minute, on one stream alone (#iranelection), and most of that repetitive and uninformative material is not being posted by anyone except for a huge mass of American Twitter users. In total, only a third of Iranians even have Internet access (we saw in the Canadian case that Internet access does not translate into Twitter use) and, very interestingly, the youth who are most associated with the protests and with Twitter use, consist of 18-to-24-year-olds who in fact comprise “the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all age groups” (poll).

The Associated Press has produced a similar analysis, noting that in Iran, “Internet usage is mostly still a phenomenon of the affluent, the youth and city-dwellers — meaning Twitter and other networks are used mostly by the young and liberal — and may overemphasize their numbers while ignoring more-conservative political sentiments among the non-connected.” Those interviewed by AP say that the Twitter hype is creating an illusion that Tehran is witnessing another revolution, or that Twitter even matters for Iranians. (See Tweeting Iran: Elex news in 140 characters or less,” by Rebecca Santana, Associated Press, 15 June 2009.)

So in this Twitter revolution, Twitter is not representative of Internet users, Internet use is not representative of a wider population, the youth are not representative of the youth, and the Iranians may not even be Iranian. Fantastic indeed, this power of “social media”.

What Are the “Revolutionaries” Saying?

“Where is my vote?” I am not sure where the votes of the disgruntled losers of the Iranian election are, but I doubt that they are in Twitter. Perhaps this view is mistaken, perhaps the way they recast their ballot is through Twitter, and one would think that the pretty young females with makeup and jewelry cast their real ballots when they held up signs in Tehran, in English, for foreign news photographers.

What is even less clear is whether they are saying anything much in Twitter. Some journalists think they see a “new stage in the evolution of social media,” in the form of the “use of Twitter in Iran” (largely mistaking Twitter for Iran with in Iran), and even claim that “information is flooding out of the country — on Twitter” (see Tweets from Tehran: The use of Twitter in Iran is a new stage in the evolution of social media,” by Ashley Terry, Global NewsJune 15, 2009). The question we should ask ourselves is: what information and what is the nature of this “flood”?

Personally, I have seen very little in the way of actual events being reported, and when they are, they are retweeted (repeated) hundreds of times over for almost an entire day. There is enormous volume, and little content. Hanson Hosein, director of digital media at the University of Washington, wrote “I’m having a hard time filtering through #iranelection, beyond the re-tweets and second-hand information passed around by Twitterers outside the country….We can’t take [tweets] at face value. It can be quite dangerous. We should be doing as much fact-checking as possible” (source). Michael Crowley also wrote, “One thing that really bothers me about these twitters and first-hand accounts posted on blogs is that there’s no way to verify them; I’ve seen several that either seemed suspect or turned out to be false” (source). Similarly, another blogger observed that, “If you, as an average news consumer, relied on Twitter you might believe all sorts of things had happened, which simply hadn’t, running a high risk of being seriously misled about events on the ground. You might at best, have simply been confused. You probably wouldn’t have thought Ahmadinejad enjoys much popular support at all” (source).

One of the most common retweets I read, over a two-day period, was this one, sometimes with minor modifications:

RT From Iran: CONFIRMED!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters! PLZ RT! URGENT!”

In fact, there was no army “move against” the protesters, not at the time, not before it, not even right after it. Some of the tweets seemed designed to deliberately spread misinformation, such as:

military is rumoured to refusing orders to shoot


2 million in the streets


@VOA claims 5000 Lebanese Hezbollah Milita h/b brought down to Iran to help control the situation #iranelection [that particular Twitter account, remains entirely blank in actual fact]


students being thrown from university building by police


IRAN: CONFIRMING 10~15 dead at dorms last night! Floors are covered w/ blood!!! ( location: USA)


I have heard here that there may be a national strike in Iran on Tuesday. (said a New York twitter user)

Not only does Twitter allow Americans to engage in participant voyeurism, it allows them to create the “news” about Iran for Iranians themselves, and apparently making it up as they go along. Indeed, anyone can be an Iranian in Twitter, and in fact all are being encouraged to “become” Iranian as in this other vastly over-repeated tweet:

RT help protect Iranian tweeters by changing your timezone to GMT+3:30 and location to Tehran

In addition, having urged all to do as above, there is a further effort to mask the identity of alleged Iranian Twitter users:

When re-tweeting sources from Iran please delete handler name. Type RT SOURCE from Iran #iranelection #gr88 VERY IMPORTANT!!!! Pls RT

The problem as we see is that when everybody is in Iran, nobody is in Iran.

Social Media Are Better Than…?

The last point raises the issue of how are we to value the “information” provided by this “Twitter revolt”. The first problem is to get over short attention spans — this is not the first “Twitter revolt” as some in Twitter suggest. The latest, previous revolt was in Moldova, and I personally followed very closely the Greek riots through Twitter and many other media. Indeed, the #griots stream is still active, and when it was especially active in December of 2008, it featured countless links to independent media, loaded with photographs and videos, and many if not most of the tweets were in Greek — it was a Greek event, generated for Greeks and to be consumed by Greeks. Thus previously I have not had the reason for criticizing Twitter as I do now.

There is virtually no accountability or transparency evident in this now almost mythical “Iranian Twitter Revolution,” as we do not know who is where and why they are saying what they do. It is not as easy to get away with truth-creation in the mainstream media, especially when reporting from conflict zones: as has happened many times in the past, untruthful reporters claiming to be filing stories from the war zone have been unmasked by others as being nowhere in sight, or, if there, as never leaving their hotels. We cannot do that with Twitter. One Twitter user pleaded, “don’t retweet anything until it’s confirmed, spreading rumors will do more harm than good #iranelection” — but then, how is it confirmed? Propaganda journalism often gets unmasked; in Twitter, propaganda gets retweeted and thus remasked.

Not only is Twitter “reporting” not more credible than the mainstream media, it is also vastly less informative. On a simple quantitative scale: add up everything that is actually reported as “news” in #iranelection, whether true or not, confirmed or not, and compare it side by side with any one article from the major wire services. I would venture that half of any one article for the day contains more information than all of the day’s tweets combined. As if to confirm the relationship, many of the tweets themselves link to mainstream media sources.

As for “social media” providing egalitarian access and voice for everyone, what is most immediately apparent from #iranelection in Twitter is the drive to silence some voices: “all users IGNORE all post except from reliable sources,” said one. How do you know a source is “reliable” in Twitter? “I’m really following this closely. Fascinating watching the protests unfold” — but you are not actually watching the protests. You are entertaining an illusion in your mind that is generated by the tweets.

A Revolution in the American Fantasy

It may be wrong to single out Americans here, since there is every likelihood, given the current geopolitical context, that Israeli Twitter users (among the heaviest Twitter users one can find) have a vested interest in manipulating the discussion to serve the ends of the Israeli state, as do many Americans. One thing to do is to try to foment a division between Iran and Hezbollah, thus one posted: “large number of armed forces are lebanese/arab hired to beat down the brave iranians” — completely without substance. Another Twitter user I spoke to chose to quote the Talmud to the Iranian protesters. Interestingly, the Jerusalem Post was immediately “aware” of three “Iranian” bloggers (who post only in English), almost as soon as they joined, claiming without support that their Twitter feeds were from Iran (see here and here).

That the U.S. government has an active interest in the unfolding of the “Twitter revolution” for Iran, is an established fact. The U.S. State Department intervened to ask Twitter to delay a scheduled maintenance break so as to not interrupt tweets about Iran — “Ian Kelly, a state department spokesman, told reporters at a briefing that he had recognized over the weekend the importance of social media ‘as a vital tool for citizens’ empowerment and as a way for people to get their messages out’. He said: ‘It was very clear to me that these kinds of social media played a very important role in democracy – spreading the word about what was going on'” (see US urges Twitter to delay service break,” by Chris Nuttall and Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, 17 June 2009, and U.S. State Department speaks to Twitter over Iran,” Reuters, 16 June 2009). What the U.S. State Department is also doing, of course, is reinforcing the unproven claim that this is important to Iran, while careful not to specify whose citizens are being empowered, whose word is being spread, and “out” from where. At the same time, the Obama regime claims that it is not meddling in Iranian affaris.

As if to close the feedback loop, some Twitter users directed messages at Obama’s own Twitter account, urging him to wear a green tie “in solidarity with the Iranian people”. It is interesting solidarity, given that no one has been able to show that Ahmadinejad actually lost the election, given that the entire premise for the protest is that if he won, then it must be a fraud. Not exactly top-notch analysis. (See instead, Ahmadinejad won. Get over it,” by Lynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, Politico, 15 June 2009.)

To further close the loop between “independent” Twitter users and the American state and its foreign policy aims, instructions have been provided on how to conduct “cyberwar” against Iranian websites (source). Others try to forge an ideological link between the Iranian protesters and Twitter’s American Republicans: some American Twitter conservatives inserted their #tcot tag when addressing #iranelection. Others proclaim the following:

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.-Thomas Jefferson #iranelection

Yes we care about people outside America. It’s just sometimes hard to show when the leaders of other countries keep us apart.

Yet none of these people cared about democracy when another of Egypt’s fraudulent elections took place, seeing the arrest and torture and sometimes the murder of opposition activists. In that case, a dictator favourable to American and Israeli interests is being propped up, and “we” dutifully remain indifferent. The same indifference is likely to be shown for the upcoming Afghan elections, when perhaps once again multiple voting will occur.

Glenn Greenwald put the situation best, and with far more discernment and perspicacity than any cheerleading Shirky, when he writes in The ‘Bomb Iran’ contingent’s newfound concern for The Iranian People” (Salon, 16 June 2009:

Much of the same faction now claiming such concern for the welfare of The Iranian People are the same people who have long been advocating a military attack on Iran and the dropping of large numbers of bombs on their country — actions which would result in the slaughter of many of those very same Iranian People.  During the presidential campaign, John McCain infamously sang about Bomb, Bomb, Bomb-ing Iran.  The Wall St. Journal published a war screed from Commentary‘s Norman Podhoretz entitled “The Case for Bombing Iran,” and following that, Podhoretz said in an interview that he “hopes and prays” that the U.S. “bombs the Iranians.”  John Bolton and Joe Lieberman advocated the same bombing campaign, while Bill Kristol — with typical prescience — hopefully suggested that Bush might bomb Iran if Obama were elected.  Rudy Giuliani actually said he would be open to a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran in order to stop their nuclear program.

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125 thoughts on “America’s Iranian Twitter Revolution

  1. Very refreshing and calming and reassuring after reading and watching all the opinions about what is happening in Iran which quite frankly most often than not is depressing and deflating. But this one lifted my mood up learning there are those still out there who can think for themselves. Thanks for the read . Very informative.

  2. wow. there is so much in here. Most of it i agree with. The statistics info was for me far less persuasive than your analysis of the content, language and social media itself.

    The latter stuff where you put the whole #iranelection into conversation with wider ideology of geopolitics and Empire is certainly an important frame, and more for me to think about.

    Nice work

  3. “This is it. the big one”, so the story goes.

    Well, after reading your post and especially the last quote :

    “Much of the same faction now claiming such concern for the welfare of The Iranian People are the same people who have long been advocating a military attack on Iran and the dropping of large numbers of bombs on their country — actions which would result in the slaughter of many of those very same Iranian People.”

    my conclusion is rather : “This is shit. The big one.”

  4. Twitter? You said it! “There is enormous volume, and little content.”
    People who wish they were making news, but no real news at all.~c

  5. Great sober analysis and reflection on the West’s narcissism when it comes to the Middle East. Now we express our revolutionary fantasies in a cloud of technological chicanery and new media hocus pocus–we love revolutions, as long as they occur somewhere else, preferably somewhere we’ve been talking about bombing for quite a while.

  6. Max–
    I too have been following the Iranian twitter stream and a lot of it seems repetitive and non-sensical. I’d like to quibble with one part of your post, a part utterly unconnected to the main argumentative thread.

    You cite Glenn Greenwald uncritically. He is cited quite often uncritically by radicals–Richard Seymour, even Noam Chomsky (on torture). But consider the article you’re quoting above. (I’m actually repeating something I said in Pulse by someone citing practically the same passage):

    Greenwald gingerly edges up against radicalism here, but as ever, he can’t quite enunciate the radical criticism of Amer. foreign policy.

    Look through his piece. The question, the only question, is one of cost. In this case, the cost to the Iranians of our bombing them. That cost, and that cost alone, makes bombing them an inadvisable action within this critical mind-set.

    Well, I’m with Chomsky. From American Power and the New Mandarins, Introduction, regarding reasons for mainstream opposition to the war in Vietnam: “A second cause is the feeling that the cost to its victims is too great. At first glance this reaction seems to be at a higher moral level than the first, but this is questionable. The principle that we should retract our claws when the victim bleeds too much is hardly an elevated one. What about opposition to war on the grounds…” of principle, or illegality (Greenwald the barrister surely is familiar with the Nuremberg precedent).

    This might seem petty or righteous. It isn’t. The refusal to articulate this criticism is precisely why Greenwald enjoys his pulpit at Salon. He abjures a principled, and hence radical, criticism of Amer. foreign policy. That matters, because when you’re the military hegemon, it is you who determines when the cost is too high, a standard you’d never accept in the case of intervention in your country. By re-articulating a cost-based criticism of American foreign policy or intervention, Greenwald shunts off his brain, and his readers, from the radical dissent of principle. This seems a pretty big problem, to me.

    My own take on Iran is over here:

  7. I take your points about Greenwald, very insightful comments in fact. I found immediate use for some of his essays, and was willing to give him a pass because his opinions are not the usual ones — in this case he appeared to be a making a dig at the bomb Iran crowd, who now love Iran, who are willing to take seriously the democracy that they previously ridiculed and dismissed. I still think you have something, thanks for sharing that — and your post too, which I just read and from which I learned a couple of new things as well.

  8. @Max an excellent analysis! You might be interested to check this URL

    Quoting from the above source:

    “When BayNewser heard that someone from the State Department had called Twitter to ask them to delay maintenance to allow Iranians to continue tweeting, we pictured some fusty old guy at Foggy Bottom in a rumpled Brooks Brothers suit and wayward spectacles.Imagine our surprise, then, when we learned that, instead, it was a 27-year-old whiz kid whose job is to advise the State Department on how to use social media to promote U.S. interests the Middle East”.

  9. Thanks Sara, and that is the most interesting article I have read about this Cohen guy, and it reveals a lot that corresponds with some of the premises of my article. Best wishes.

  10. I just heard a piece on NPR about the “Twitter Revolution” in Iran. One thing they talked a bit about was the guy in Oklahoma who was apparently making his computer available as a proxy server for Iranians to use twitter anonymously. According to the story, the Iranian government has blocked access to it now, but he’s helped others to do the same. In any case, this further complicates the issue of authenticity, since, according to all appearances, those tweets are coming from Oklahoma. The only person who could know where those tweets are actually coming from is the owner of the proxy server. Not that it really matters anyway, given your analysis of the lack of internet and twitter access in Iran, and the impoverished nature of the feeds.
    Excellent post!

  11. What an important reflection on the blind momentum of the past few days.

    Unfortunately, I fear most of the Twitter power users won’t take the time to read such an in-depth analysis (I say this as someone who fully admits to being a happy — and mostly measured — Twitter user).

    One of the dangers of such Twitter glorification is that the honest energy behind social rumblings can be confused with point and click rebellion. Contexts other than our own are largely abandoned, and we view protest through our own lenses.

    I don’t, however, think this is inevitable. I think social media are tools — as such, their value lies largely in how we use them. Your example of the protests in Greece was new and interesting to me.

    Also, the link to the poll about the 18-24 crowd comprising Ahmadinejahd’s strongest age group of support was news to me — and it reveals a mistake in the post I wrote about this Iran/Twitter issue. Thank you!

  12. Good idea. Iran is a popular topic making Twitter an increasingly more popular hype. So, why not write about Twitter wthen everyone involved in the hype will hear about this and visit your blog?

    Keep in mind all the hits you’re getting aren’t because you’re intelligent, or a young, hip writer speaking the truth- it’s because you’re feeding off from a hot topic- as is twitter- to further yourself.

    Frankly, your diatribe on twitter, Iran, and how you were listening to punk rock before everyone else… I mean, twittering about Greece before Iran happened, just makes you sound like another hip, pretentious, ‘I-blog-therefore-I-am-unique-and-intellectual’ prick.

    Go back to drinking Starbucks with your grad-school friends and discussing who’s thick-rimmed glasses and sweater are better than who’s ideology about why the rest of the world isn’t quite as smart as you.

  13. Participant voyeurism seems to be a little more complicated than I thought. It appears that it also requires a quick head rush, an early resolution, and pronouncing a “happy ending” as events are still unfolding and as more sober analysts admit that there is extreme uncertainty about where all of this is heading, is one way to deal with a short attention span.

  14. That you need to engage in petty and juvenile insults shows that you are clearly very hurt by my article: good. That you call a very reasoned analysis a “diatribe” tells us that you are struggling with the English language. However, thanks for the news that I am getting many hits, there was something useful about your intervention after all.

    So I take it that you are offended that as a researcher I dared to not leave all the writing to others? That I had the arrogance to write something myself — so unlike everyone else too? That you would prefer total silence, and no critical thinking? My, what a good little citizen-dupe we have here, upset that a good fairy tale is being undone as quickly as it is being spun.

    While there is a strong and bitter note of jealousy and envy in your little message, let me reassure and calm you:

    Even the big boys are reaching the same conclusions, and not just the ones I quoted.

    Iran’s Twitter Revolution? Maybe Not Yet
    Some Iranian election protesters used Twitter to get people on the streets, but most of the organizing happened the old-fashioned way

    PS: remember, anthropologists, do not feed off hot topics, in case you might have anything valuable to say. Those of you who like myself teach Political Anthropology and Cyberspace Ethnography — avoid politics and cyberspace. Try to stay obscure and irrelevant, so that “Spencer Worthley” and the other angry children won’t choke on their Cool Aid.

  15. Thanks very much Jeremy, and I meant to thank Dylan too earlier.

    Tweets from Oklahoma, this is great stuff. I know of an active mil blogger, whose motto is “demoralize the enemy”, who is actively chasing anyone in Twitter who is critical of the protesters and accusing them of being Iranian government agents. It’s wonderful, like watching my dog chase flies around the home, although he is nowhere near as handsome as my dog.

    In the meantime, the Jerusalem Post has rewritten its articles — just those portions where they seemed to be aware from a little too early about the presence of “Iranian” twitterers — and has extended its pieces with more of the propaganda used by some people in Twitter, such as Hamas being used to beat Iranian protesters. Anything that is convenient is truth.


    and then,


  16. Max–
    Yes, I didn’t mean to suggest that Greenwald was wrong in what he wrote per se. Just limited, and, unfortunately, operating with an imperial psychology, which runs very deep.

  17. I think that you made a very good case, I appreciated your perspective very much, and it will cause me to read him much more closely in the future, that is, with far greater care.

  18. Thanks Zoe. Of course I can’t generalize about all Twitter users, but I have the same sense: that the retweet crowd is too occupied with repeating the repetition to actually do much more to inform themselves or to step out of the moment.

  19. Max, and Zoe, you mention the poll from the Washington Post which states that “18-to-24-year-olds comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all age groups”. Be careful how you reference that poll, as it can be easily used to mislead people, which I will assume is not your intention.

    It is not at all surprising that 18-to-24 year-olds compromised the largest age group supporting Ahmadinejad – 18-to-24 year-olds are the largest age group in Iran, period. It does not mean, however, that Ahmadinejad was more popular amongst that demographic.

    It merely means that Ahmadinejad’s supporters were roughly a cross-section of Iranian society and the largest age group in Iran was also the largest age group amongst his supporters – which should be expected. One could probably also say that “Persians comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all ethnic groups” seeing how 51% of the population is Persian – however, that doesn’t tell us who Persians were most likely to vote for. I have no idea who 18-to-24 year-olds supported either, since this poll does not appear to tell us.

  20. I hope it was clear that “shit” in my comment refers to the political and moral stance of people who want to bomb a country and then suddenly feel oh so close to the people of that country when their actions seems to fit their ideological tastes.

  21. Twitter is the stupidest website ever, and I agree with things you are saying.
    But why waste time talking about Twitter in a time like this? I’m sure you could somehow be using your knowledge in some semi-constructive way instead of reassuring ineffective people how totally ineffective they are.

    Also, way to waste no time retaliating. I’m impressed that you use more multi-syllabic words than me.

  22. While twitter is not *the* story, it is at least part of an interesting story of communication. That the phenomenon is tied to urban, more middle class environments in no way reduces its significance. The protests are themselves an urban phenomenon, and the cities matter.

  23. Analysis is diatribe, and response is retaliation. You really have to work on that misdirected aggression. Try to flame less, so that whatever insights you may have come across in a more interesting manner. Having said that, I think you misunderstood this piece entirely, and it seems all the many people who have produced dozens of articles (on blogs, and in the mainstream media) over these last days. The contention is definitely not that Twitter users are ineffective. Nor is that the contention of the U.S. State Department. The contention is framed in the title of the article.

  24. Yes, those are good points, thanks very much. However, what remains is that the young Iranian Twitter users that we have supposedly been exposed to, and it is still a fact that even by the widest and most generous measure they are very few, are not representative of the youths who supported Ahmadinejad, and therefore what we see in Twitter is part of the larger pattern of inflation and distortion that rests on a single unsupported premise: Moussavi won.

  25. @Max, here are some quoted parts from the below link

    “some of the posts on Twitter appeared to be from users in Tehran, others clearly were not”.

    Much of the material on Twitter is posted anonymously”.

    “only a quarter of Iran’s 70 million people have Internet access at home or at work, and Internet cafes are found only in major cities”.

    “Fearing Iranian government attempts to track Twitter users, some of those abroad changed their settings to make it appear they’re in Iran — hoping to make it more difficult for authorities to find Iranian users”.

  26. Once again an excellent post… how you managed to read all those tweets and stay sane I’ll never know… but well done! :)
    Cheers, Dan

  27. @Max, check also this URL

    The post is entitled “Our Iran”

    Here is a quote from its Iranian author,

    “At the eve of Iranian election, i have alot to say. About the american policy, Iran’s democracy, the narrow minded Western media and their somehow unfair reactions toward the election, the influence of Iran’s election on the world affairs and so on. But right now I prefer to show you photos and let you judge.”

    She is posting some interesting pictures over there.

  28. a valid analysis, except that there is real information trickling from twitter,
    and still gushing in YouTube, Flickr, reliable FaceBooks, TinyUrls, blogs.

    you have to understand, that ironically, as the twitter channels were reported
    in the news media, more and more newbies migrated to these, and the signal
    to noise ratio considerably dropped. in the first nights, friday, saturday, and
    even sunday, a good 50% of the tweets were live videos, pictures, and text
    reporting, through TinyUrl Flickr or YouTube, a lot of it in farsi. other useful
    info included proxy configs, etc.

    that got increasingly polluted over the following days. but seeing in this the
    failure of social networking would be a gross generalisation. had twitter been
    a moderated, reputation capital based system it might have been a different
    story, then again its simplicty and anonymity is what allowed it to easily
    circumvent censorship.

    I suspect most iranian freedom fighters who can still connect sporadically
    have turned to oher channels and mediums. new webs of trust are doubtless
    being built right now. Like Twitter, don’t assume that the airwaves are
    dead just because you haven’t foundout about them. Doubtless when you do,
    as your current report, you will be a week late.

    do check out YouTube, search for relevant keywords, filter for today.

    now tell me that organized media is still relevant for on the field reporting.
    mass media now has to change role. its inertia due to the liabilities imposed
    by personnel safety, publication licenses, copyrights, make it less reactive.
    the new role of media is going to be to aggregate and arrange this live content.

    but forget-on-the ground reporting. that era is over.

  29. Many thanks Sara, these links are very interesting. If it wasn’t for Twitter I probably would have flooded this page with links…it might have been better if I had, come to think of it.

  30. …except that this article was meant to be entirely about Twitter, and praises of Twitter that generalized from it to all social media. That this has been sold by several prominent media “gurus” and newspapers and magazines as a “Twitter revolution,” is the focus of the piece. I would not generalize from my own observations about Twitter to YouTube and the other SNS, and would prefer to leave that to others, and I will defer to them.

    I think there is a difference in perception that we are likely not going to solve easily. In my view, there was extremely little valid and verifiable information right from the start. It turns that others felt the same, and I quoted some of them, as an indicator of a certain degree of inter-subjective agreement. Some of the posted photos in Twitter were not in fact of protest rallies, but of pre-election campaign rallies. Many of the links were to mainstream media. I have not done a statistical count, but even if one were to remove all of the retweets, and remove all of the messages coming from those who do not claim to be in Iran, I would venture that we would be left with very little. Even the information and photo hungry mainstream media, including those quick to praise Twitter, have not shown us that they harvested much at all, in terms of either photos, videos, or verifiable claims from their use of Twitter. Has anyone else noticed that, the high praise and yet limited content?

    I did not follow you on being a “week late”. This article is based on the first four-and-a-half days since the election, and was posted on the fifth day, so I personally do not see the lateness.

    You are quick to proclaim the end of “on the ground reporting” — if you are right, and I fear you might be, and this is the kind of information we are then left with, then we are all very much screwed. Unless, of course, anthropologists find ways of picking up the slack, as we are still very much on the ground.

  31. […] America’s Iranian Twitter Revolution « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY One of the better refutations of this silly Twitter revolution hasbara. A lot of good points on tech penetration of iran, the value of twitter "news", and the other interests that are probably involved. […]

  32. no; you have to look at it as raw data feeds. data that
    you must sift through and turn into information.

    it doesn’t signify the end of journalism, just that now
    you’ll be able to focus on the smart things, thorough
    analysis and good commentary instead of the grunt
    work, which is what good reporters do best anyway,
    that is, spin ti together.

    One thing that the media should understand is that
    Twitter’s role has been to serve as aggregation nexus.
    Twitter without the TwitPics, TinyUrl, Flickr, YouTube
    would not be the story it is today (or was when it mattered

    You’re completely right about tweet degeneration,
    but I was there on Twitter in the first days. Maybe
    there’s a way for you to sift through their archives?
    if not, take my word for it: it made a difference,
    for at least a few days.

    of wit, I also ran a proxy, and my ethereal sniffer
    confirmed connectiosn from iranian ip addresses
    for a short while. don’t know if they were activists
    or agents, but one may reasonably assume a bit of both.

    also please take the time to sift through the streams,
    most of the YouTube data is GPS and time located,
    so I would say these videos are pretty reliable.

    consider that YouTube has temporarily suspended
    its ban on violence in order to allow these alternate
    news feeds;

    to wit, noteworthy stuff that has not surfaced in mainstream media:

    * ahmadinejad chased out of a mosque:

    * storming (of a bassij jail?) and ensuing shootings:

    this one is telling. you can hear a number of shots without
    a ricochet, instead ending in a dull thud. that’s a body being
    hit each time.

    the videos and pics have not disappeared. most are
    dated and located, so you can search through YouTube
    and find good data there.

    for fine reporting, all it’s missing, is your commentary.

  33. […] America’s Iranian Twitter Revolution « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY "Twitter may be as irrelevant to Iran as it is good for the promotion of Twitter itself, and for the self-flattery of some ardent Twitter users who believe that their tweets and their green-tinted avatars will change the world, or at least Iran. The revolution will not only be tweeted, it will be fast and easy, and it will be led by Americans themselves, “for Iran”." (tags: blog middleeast web2.0 imperialism elections) […]

  34. Max,

    An interesting analysis, but like a couple of other readers, I think that perhaps by focusing too much on a single piece of software (Twitter), you’re missing something in your assessment. Now upfront I should note that I don’t use or read Twitter, but I do understand the concept. I also understand that they have Farsi language support, as do many of the other social-networking sites. Which brings me to my first point on which I’d like clarification.

    You talked about how, “In actual fact, the only allegedly Iranian Twitter users who have been identified by other Twitter users as tweeting about the Iranian protests, are fewer than 45 (see one list here), most of whose locations cannot be confirmed and almost all of whom post only in English.”

    But Max, the site you linked to is a personal blog written by a nice older NGO fellow, who apparently does not read or speak Farsi, and is merely listing Twitterers that he knows. (He has, it should be noted, been to Iran in the past.) They’re all written in English because, well, that’s what he speaks. It’s not authoritative in any way at all, and he does not claim that it is such. It’s just one nice older man’s collection of addresses that he’s passing on.

    Maybe I missed it Max, but how many are Twittering inside Iran, in Farsi? If that number is in the thousands, or tens of thousands, would that matter to your thesis?

    A few years back, just after returning from Iraq in fact, I was asked to come to a conference at a journalism school to talk about the blogging that I’d done while I was there. On the way out, after the talk and the panel, one of the faculty asked me about plans for Iran. (As I recall, at the time there was some saber-rattling going on which caused his concern.) I told him I hadn’t a clue, and his comment was interesting and enlightening. He said, “Well, whatever you [meaning the military] do, don’t bomb Tehran or their communications.” As this is a pretty standard part of all warplans since the invention of the airplane I asked him for clarification and he explained that Farsi was the second most common language (at that time) in online blogging, surpassed only by English, in the total volume of information posted.

    I was pretty surprised by that, and fwiw, I cannot confirm or deny that this professor of new media was telling the truth or pulling my leg. But as we had a congenial evening together, I see no reason why he might have been lying.

    Which would tend to give more credence to the idea that Twitter, used by Iranians for Iranians, IN FARSI, actually is having an effect there in Iran, among Iranians, which may be greater than what you are talking about in your essay. I don’t think it matters what people are saying (and/or fabricating) in English that much, eh?

    (All this being said while agreeing with most of the statistics about limited Iranian access to internet, etc., and noting that they are true, it may also be that this is irrelevent. The poll was correct in that most Iranians probably do support Amidinijad, but most rural Iranians are also illiterate, as the poll also notes. Most 18-24 year olds in Iran do not live in the cities, may not be literate, and probably have little education compared to the demographic which has been taking to the streets of late. Here I would note that in ’78-’79 the core who led the revolution against the Shah were, in essence, the same demographic that is now apparently taking to the streets and using FB/Myspace/Twitter, etc. College students and college educated urbanites. I am not saying if that is right or wrong. But it does seem to be the case.)

  35. To echo some of what Frank Khor says above: the signal-to-noise ratio on #iranelection has indeed dropped considerably over the past few days. Part of that is the flood of interest from non-Iranians; part of it is a concerted effort by the Iranian state to shut down Twittering protesters.

    Even so, though, I find that a lot of these analyses comparing the usefulness of the Twitter feed to mainstream reporting are making the mistake of thinking that they should be read in the same way.

    There is, granted, a lot of nonsense circulating around on Twitter. But if you just bear that in mind, it is not very hard to sort out who knows what they’re talking about and who is just repeating rumours. Like Frank says, it’s a raw data feed. I have been following #iranelection pretty closely for several days. When I read a news article on the subject, I have invariably found that it is just restating things I already knew from the Twitter feed, or contains factual inaccuracies. In many cases, that’s because the journalists themselves are getting most of their information from Twitter to begin with. That “2 million in the streets” figure that was circulating around for a while actually came from a BBC reporter, by the way. I can track down a link if you’d like.

    One notable exception was the recent confusion as to whether or not Mousavi had actually cancelled the Friday rally or not; the sources I normally consider reliable were themselves not entirely sure what was going on. So the feed is not infallible. But it’s still a lot more useful than a naive reading would suggest.

    In general, I don’t get the impression that the Iranian opposition is organizing via Twitter or anything–after all, they’re openly marching in the streets, they can talk to each other face to face–but the site has clearly been an important way for protesters to get information outside Iran, especially with ever-tightening restrictions on foreign journalists.

  36. I followed a link from Twitter and found this anti-Twitter argument. Allow me to contribute.

    First, I am not from the US. I am in South Asia, and am affianced to a very liberal Iranian man. He is currently in Iran and has participated in most of the protests this past week (he was active in the University protest of 1999). After the elections, I could not make any contact with him for more than two days.

    Since mainstream media here is completely, mindbogglingly useless, I began obsessively following all the news available online, most of which was coming from Twitter, even on “live-blogging” news websites. Having never used Twitter before, I was astounded at the amount of regurgitated sh-t passing first for ‘news’ and then for ‘revolution’. People are *still* URGENTLY tweeting at others about not including usernames and posting stuff like the kind you picked out very well, without any sources or confirmation whatsoever (oh, except the word ‘CONFIRMED’). In several cases I messaged these users inquiring about their sources, but never once got a response.

    Now that I have been in contact with my fiance for the past few days, I have learned to take everything written on Twitter with a giant helping of salt. You are right that the revolution is on Twitter, and if there is a revolution in Tehran, it does not have much to do with Twitter. More importantly, it is not owned by the Western media or governments, all of whom seem entirely incapable of viewing this crisis though any lens or motive except their own. That is not only saddening but also dangerous.

    Having watched Khamenei’s speech today on BBC, I have been following how the major news agencies and papers (all the big ones) have chosen to interpret and present the crux and implications of what Khamenei said. No one, not even the Iranian people (read the op-ed I have linked to in the website column above) know how this is going to play out. But it is painfully and shamefully clear that the West is hungering for a regime change in Iran, and presenting this as inherently good by calling it a ‘revolution’. On BBC, a mere few minutes after the speech ended, a British journalist in a television studio said that things are going to get really bad in Iran now, because the Supreme Leader has alienated the people too much and because he just saw a protester holding up a sign saying “I would rather die than live in this country right now.” These are the same journalists who are rushing to and picking up sources from Twitter (and Flickr, and YouTube) who are posting messages about rallies and anti-Ahmedinejad viewpoints.

    I want to also disclose here that in my mind, and from speaking to the Iranian people I know, there is no doubt that there was a massive election fraud in Tehran. But that is almost irrelevant to the point I am trying to make, which, ultimately, is this:

    Iran is a country of mostly very young people (many people leave after college to avoid military service etc), and there is a deep chasm between the old fanatical clerics and the young (Westernized, urban, educated, and other such qualifiers) people. These young people – at least some of them – are getting a GREAT deal of validation online from places as respected (yes, here in Asia, still respected) as the New York Times and BBC, and have gained thousands of followers on Twitter who hang on their every word and retweet it for hours, if not days. (I don’t know if you noticed, but there has even been a very strong movement to bully ‘celebrities’ on Twitter to re-tweet ‘important’ information about #iranelection. Many have yielded.)

    More than this, there seems to be a widespread, endlessly retweeted notion that these young people will be able to get their freedom without bloodshed. That the whole world is watching and “cheering them on” and that non-violence and Gandhian ideals will triumph. This is, in one word: impossible. It did not even work for Gandhi’s land (where I am from), and Iran is a deeply and pervasively militarized country. Even if the people were in a position to claim a victory for any kind of regime change yet, it will never, ever happen without a great deal of violence. When Western media and people — who many young liberal Iranians do look towards and are charmed by — egg on young, very ‘green’ supporters (by their tone or literally) and paint an ENTIRELY UNSUBSTANTIATED picture of the ‘great chances’ of their winning some kind of nebulous revolution, the goals of which are still undefined, it is a terrible thing.

    Between eight to forty people (according to various official reports) have already died. For a candidate who represented nothing except that he was not Ahmedinejad. This is very real blood, it is not digital blood shed painlessly to awe and amaze outside readers. It signals the real desperation of the Iranian people, but to some extent it also signals their youth and naivete. It is time for Americans and others to stop hijacking this historic Iranian moment and take some responsibility to verify facts and wake up to the REAL horror that is sure to happen in Iran if protests contrinue. And leave the choice of that route to the Iranian people, whose blood it is.

    This is not some human interest story that social media ‘gurus’ can shamelessly cannibalize to ‘tweet’ their own horns about the legitimacy of their entirely stupid jobs. Social media should not legitimize the notion that the few tweets or videos that are reported in mainstream news are “the voice of the Iranian people.” No matter how badly we want to see change in Iran.

    This is real people. Most of them are kids, even the 45 that are on Twitter. What they need is real reporting. In lieu of that, they need a reality check.

  37. To clarify and compress my previous comment: Mainstream reporting agencies are being extremely lax not only in their vetting process for the events unfolding in Iran but also in crowdsourcing the mood, opinion and inclination of its people. The excuse seems to be that since Iranian government has banned foreign journalists and has such a repressive and autocratic approach to indigenous media, anything we publish from the other side is better than them and makes us humanitarians or liberal or something.

    The mainstream Western media reporting on Iran has a greater responsibility precisely because they are the only way in which we, and more importantly the young people of Iran, can get non-state-approved news about Iran.

    And in what other circumstance has it been okay to report as news what a few people are saying, especially those with deeply vested interests and biases of their own in what is going on? Is there an assumption that Iranian liberals are too innocent to twist facts, or that liberalism is a spontaneous and natural outcry against Iranian theocracy – and hence must be accurate?

  38. I think there is some good information here, and if the point of this piece was to say “Twitter is not the cause or primary factor in street protests in Iran, nor is it the main source of information on what is happening — though the hype might have you believe that it is” I would say, well Duh.

    What disturbs me about your article is the pivot from facts about Twitter to the Zionist conspiracy. You suggest that this activity is manufactured by American imperialists and Zionists as evidenced by, among others, articles in the right-wing English-language Jerusalem Post. (They actually speak Hebrew in Israel, and I would suggest that if you wanted to accuse Israelis and Zionists of a plot you might have to look at press in their own language. Maybe that’s anthropology 101?)

    No doubt there is such a phenomena of people who have an interest in the outcome of this drama to be pushing their own agenda. That this is somehow the dominant story is fantasy. It seems much more likely that the massive activity on Twitter on this subject has a more simple explanation. Americans, who love a good story, have glommed-on to the Twitter story, just as they did when Oprah tweeted or Ashton got his million. Combine the “shiny object” of Twitter with a story of people seeking democracy and freedom, and there you have a movie Americans like to watch. Add a lazy and resource-starved press, and you have all you need to make this into a cultural phenomenon.

    That you needed to create a sinister plot behind it all, and that this plot was from the Jews, puts you in league with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who blamed “media belonging to Zionists, evil media” for the unrest.

    There is plenty of evidence that the results released do not reflect the actual vote and you simply ignore them. As Roger Cohen wrote in the Times, “… a genuine victory with almost two-thirds of the vote would not require the imposition of near-martial law to secure it.”

    You seem apologist for this form of tyranny. I would suggest that in this you betray an agenda that goes far beyond Twitter.

  39. These are undeniably excellent points you make. Right about now, the reverberations in the echo chamber are killing my “ears”.
    To some extent, your points can be traced to an overall lack of critical thinking and reasoning skills that plagues Americans. We allow our emotions, our desire to connect with others, and our need to be part of a group eclipse rational thought–hmmm sort of like religious zealots, I suppose. Anyhow, we saw this same Twitter phenomenon with the swine flu frenzy. Even very well-educated k-16 educators that I know, annoyingly, were partaking in the paranoid reverberations. You would expect better from them. But, you’d be wrong to do so.
    Anyhow, Twitter may play a role in breaking news (true, it is most often unconfirmed), but its usefulness quickly gets corrupted by the irrational masses.

  40. This will be one of those rare times where I cannot respond to all the comments, as much as I am grateful for all of them, simply because it would take even more time than it took to write the original post.

    Bob, the only thing I wanted to raise, not that I dispute any of your good points, was the possibility that that one list of Iranian Twitter users was tied to the actual #iranelection discussion, distilled from his observations. I trusted the generosity of his list, because it was longer than mine (which was about seven users, three of which he does not mention). In total, of all the suspected Iranians who contributed, yes, I think his list could have been longer even, but not by much. The largest estimate of the total number of Iranian Twitter users was provided by Business Week, and it seemed to be around 8,200 users if I recall, most of whom were not present in the #iranelection discussion. Indeed, like most other Twitter users, only a small minority of them will have ever posted more than one “tweet”. Finally, I am not sure that the list I linked to was meant to be limited only to English-speaking Twitter users — most of those in #iranelection in fact only post in English, which is why many observers grew suspicious (do you guys also talk to each other only in English?).

    In case I do not respond directly to any of the other comments, my thanks to all for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

  41. Thank you very much — and while I thank all of those who visited and commented, I wanted to say that I was especially grateful for your contribution. I hope that readers pay the serious attention to your post that it deserves.

  42. It is a good sign that you would say “duh,” because most of the media reports on this are not. On to the main thrust of your post: the Zionist conspiracy. It was not my intention to suggest that the protests against the election results were somehow fabricated or managed by Israel, or even the United States. However, in the case of Israel, it would be extraordinary recklessness on the part of the Israeli establishment to not take any advantage of this situation — and there is no conspiracy thesis there, other than the one that has been produced by successive Israeli governments themselves in the recent past, especially with their frequent urgings of military action against Iran and their desire to undertake such action themselves. That they would try to seed public discussions with misinformation would be the absolute minimum that they would do.

    About the Hebrew point, I know that you wanted to be snippy about it, but I am not sure why you chose this particular target: the Jerusalem Post articles are themselves written in English. Why should I ignore them and look for Hebrew-only sources? Do the writers for the JP know that people speak Hebrew in Israel, because if they don’t, then perhaps you should remind them.

    What I think you are missing, and it was not part of this article, but of many others that exist, is that the intent to destabilize Iran is a fact. It is a fact as we know from the outset, starting with the embargo, international sanctions, frozen assets, CIA Black Ops, a Congressional act, the US State Department contacting Twitter — a whole bunch of nested activities. There is no denying that — and I agree: it is sinister. There is a lot more to this story, if you pay attention to what happens right inside Twitter, than a mere story about a shiny object and enthusiastic Americans.

    My article was also not about the actual vote, not at all. I do know that Ahmadinejad won with the same landslide during the previous elections, and there were no protests. It does not follow that when there are violent protests, that the mere fact of the size of the electoral victory means that the state will not respond with violence. If that’s Roger Cohen’s assertion, he is producing a non sequitur. And just to correct you: there is in fact NO evidence at all that has been produced to prove that these elections were fraudulent, simply suspicions of such.

    I may be “in league” (now this is your sinister, conspiratorial language) with Khamenei on many things. I may even agree with Mao Zedong, and possibly even Rush Limbaugh on occasion. I do not think that there is anyone who is always wrong, about everything, in other words.

    PS (22 June 2009): Of course, my comments about the evidence for voting irregularities are now outdated. The Iranian state has itself admitted to the fact that in 50 cities there were more votes cast than voters registered in those cities. What we do not know is who benefited from the excess, and whether it was simply a product of the fact that Iranian electoral law allows voters to vote in places other than the ones in which they registered, in other words, that these were not either fictitious voters or multiple voters.

  43. One thing that the media should understand is that
    Twitter’s role has been to serve as aggregation nexus.
    Twitter without the TwitPics, TinyUrl, Flickr, YouTube
    would not be the story it is today (or was when it mattered

    Though I’ve had a Twitter account for about a year, I never really understood it. I’m still not sure I do. But I have learned more about it this week than I knew before. I’ve learned that the repetition can be helpful and necessary because if you work for a living or breathe or eat or cook or even take a trip to the restroom, you’re going to miss something. The repetition helps highlight the good stuff.

    Which brings me to your point. Because I am a critical thinker, the aggregator function of Twitter has led me to all kinds of articles, including this one, that have helped me understand a situation more deeply than I might have otherwise. None of us can read everything. Sharing TinyURLs on Twitter or linking on Facebook helps point out what others found helpful.

    I’d never rely on Twitter for primary news. But it has had its place in the reporting of these events.

  44. […] Not only is this suicidal for the credibility of anything we are writing, allowing more room for misinformation and propaganda, but also I fail to see how this protects the Iranian bloggers’ security. If the Tweets are […]

  45. […] America’s Iranian Twitter Revolution « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY There is virtually no accountability or transparency evident in this now almost mythical “Iranian Twitter Revolution,” as we do not know who is where and why they are saying what they do. It is not as easy to get away with truth-creation in the mainstream media, especially when reporting from conflict zones: as has happened many times in the past, untruthful reporters claiming to be filing stories from the war zone have been unmasked by others as being nowhere in sight, or, if there, as never leaving their hotels. We cannot do that with Twitter. One Twitter user pleaded, “don’t retweet anything until it’s confirmed, spreading rumors will do more harm than good #iranelection” — but then, how is it confirmed? Propaganda journalism often gets unmasked; in Twitter, propaganda gets retweeted and thus remasked. […]

  46. I understand the vast hype over twitter and Iran, but would it also be a safer analysis to claim that: 1) twitter and other forms of media are at least helping the US and other nations become more aware of what’s going on in Iran, and 2) that twitter may be of supplementary use, as far as extending communication from Iran back here, spreading videos of violence/bruality, etc.

    I don’t think twitter played a key role, but as a phenomenon it did have a minor part to play mostly as an informant for the “West.” That being said, I think our narcissism, that we’re participating in Iran’s revolution via twitter is beyond idealistic. I am skeptical as to how much twitter and the internet are being used for revolutions and political activism, but the evidence is there (see “Smart Mobs,” for instance). In short I think the skepticism being shown by us social scientist must be met with a healthy recognition of the enormous potential for communication technology to eventually become instrumental in politics and society. It’s a growing force, tho hyped, and holds potential for the near future.

  47. Agreed. Twitter is a great way to communicate and broadcast news, it’s also used for chatter, etc. Meaningful and meaningless at the same time. There are a few diamonds in the mud, no?

  48. If Iran wants to use twitter to communicate, that’s their business. If people want to change the color of their avatar to support the protesters, that’s their business. Good for twitter. Makes sense that Republicans are egging the protesters on — they don’t like their government.

    Does Max understand twitter? It stands for ‘t’exting ‘w’hat ‘i’ am ‘t’hinking ‘t’o ‘e’veryone ‘r’eading.

    So there is no vetting process. At all. It’s just text about something someone is thinking. They might be writing about twitter fiction and using #iranelection. You can’t qualify anything that is on twitter. However, you can quantify it. You can measure how many times certain words or #hashtags come up, to measure current sentiment. You can measure how many care about #healthcare enough to tweet about it, for example, week over week.

    Also these are new people that are retweeting without knowing what they are retweeting. Once you accidently retweet something stupid, you don’t do it again. But everyone usually has to learn this the hard way. They are called newbies.

    You could write almost the exact same article, but replace ‘Facebook Groups’ with ‘twitter’.

  49. I would like to know what are the other options for getting quality news out of Iran if Twitter, other Social Networks and Western media cannot/ will not report??

  50. Ditto.

    Direct phone line to Iran proves most of his insinuations of false information to be false.

    Stay out of our affairs. Malicious meddling has already been covered by other organizations.

  51. Im going to have to agree with Spencer Worthley, this article is what trendy and apathetic Americans read/write to make themselves feel enlightened, important, and try to set them apart from what they perceive as the mass (in this case the American Twitter er). I like the attack on America as well as the completely random attack on Israel- Hello, which country doesn’t have a “hidden motive”. Also, there have been many reliable accounts online about Hezbollah helping the Basiij- check your facts. Attacking America in this way just shows how limited your view is of the world- have you ever lived under a dictatorship?

    And here is a thought- with all of the people who are twittering today about Iran, many are surprised at the traditional media’s refusal to seriously look at whats really happening in Iran. Isnt that in itself a good thing, to have people open their narrow minds and look at the world in a different way? Of course everyone is treating CNN as if its some great gift to media and world knowledge, but atleast those same people stopped watching VH1 for 10 minutes.
    Of course most of the people on their are just idiots re-tweeting or wearing a green shirt and then telling everyone about it as they sit in their cubicle. But the fact that this article is enlightening to someone is just as sad.

  52. You are just as reliable as anything I have seen in Twitter. “Direct phone line”…sure, we’ll all just take your word for it because we are a bunch of yokels here.

    Meddling? Our affairs? I see the real motive in your writing. So being critical of American uses of Twitter is now meddling in Iranian affairs. Moron indeed, but the question then is: “who the hell are these two morons?”

  53. Just a much needed correction, once more:

    “there have been many reliable accounts online about Hezbollah helping the Basiij- check your facts”

    By “many”, you mean NONE, because that is the actual number of reliable accounts.

    You should do a better job of hiding your own motive, as the Hezbollah myth was the real reason you posted here, and felt the need to agree with a snide, snippy remark of some youth who could not even comprehend the article, and rushed to flatter himself. As for the “attack on America,” you apparently don’t have a remote clue as to what “attack” even means, but the shrill nature of your language points to what are your really sensitive points.

    By the way, if you can read, Worthley also said that Twitter is the stupidest website ever. You defend it. Apparently you do not even know when you agree or disagree.

  54. A bit more about the Hezbollah myth, that is, that Iran is using Hezbollah fighters to confront the protesters.

    The ease and rapidity in the way some people choose to “believe” this myth (in fact, I would venture to say that those who claim to believe it, do not — they know better as the propagators of the myth) is astonishing.

    Has Iran run out of riot police and paramilitaries?
    Why should they import anyone from anywhere?

    Ironically, one of the Twitter users who is commonly said to be in Iran, speaks only of Afghan migrant workers being used to confront protesters — and that, of course, is not corroborated by anyone else. In fact, if you read closely, you will see that the allegedly Iranian tweeters sometimes seem to be in the dark themselves as to what is happening elsewhere in Tehran, and Iran more broadly.

    And if Hezbollah can involve itself, then would this not confirm the fact that Israel would automatically involve itself…or has Israel adopted a new policy of giving free rein to Hezbollah and refuses to challenge it wherever it goes? The fact that Israeli agents set off car bombs in Damascus to target Hezbollah and others, suggests otherwise to the sober ones among us.

    Lastly, as I have said before, and this does not involve conspiracy theory: it would be absolutely foolish of the Israeli state to not seek any way possible to take advantage of unrest in Iran, when for months they have been drawing up plans for a direct attack on Iran. To suddenly imagine the Israelis as taking a hands off approach is, frankly, laughable. Find any credible analyst who will back you up if you think otherwise.

  55. It’s difficult to say because apparently there is some disagreement here as to what constitutes quality news. Otherwise, there are blogs as well, which for some reason are being sidelined in this entire “Twitter revolution” barrage in the media.

  56. I’m sorry, what was your point? That this is “the business” of people in Twitter, and therefore, we should view it all uncritically and without comment?

    [sarcasm on] Anyway, thanks for telling me what Twitter is…I had no idea. [sarcasm off]

  57. you wrote:

    “However, you can quantify it. You can measure how many times certain words or #hashtags come up, to measure current sentiment. You can measure how many care about #healthcare enough to tweet about it, for example, week over week.”

    Right. That works as long as you make some huge assumptions and proceed with blindfolds. Just because different people use a term does not mean that it can be used as some kind of quantitative measure of “sentiment.” You are assuming that there is some kind of clear and measurable meaning associated with each posted term, and that is a huge assumption. You might want to rethink this logic.

  58. “Also these are new people that are retweeting without knowing what they are retweeting. Once you accidently retweet something stupid, you don’t do it again.”

    Another HUGE assumption on your part.

  59. It’s been known that Israel operatives created hundred of Twitter accounts on June 13th posing as Iranian youth to shake up a color Revolution in Iran to destabilize society, so the U.S can later launch an attack. Looks like another middle eastern country has just been added to the chaos list of zion. The class war is the elite vs the middle, and the elite want WW3 because the middle then fight the middle and they make a profit. It’s time to delete the elite!

  60. Maximilian:

    “Anything that is convenient is truth” -Maximilian Forte

    I think you solved the mystery about why blogs are being sidelined without knowing it. Twitter requires less time commitment, care and attention than writing an informative and properly sourced blog. Writing an excellent blog post takes a solid block of time whereas Twitter is rapid fire.

  61. Neda Salehi Agha Soltan becomes a symbol of Iranian resistance
    June 23, 2009

    Regarding the video of Neda Salehi Agha Soltan being killed in the protests the Times Online had this to say:

    “The authenticity of the video, and the source of the bullet, cannot be verified independently but that hardly matters any more because millions of Iranians and hundreds of millions of others around the world firmly believe the story to be true.”

  62. Your list of assumptions, especially in derogating the computer literacy of the Iranian student/intelligentsia who have no other ways to communicate, are off kilter. And to quote Glenn Greenwald, who is an out-and-out agitpreppie of the far-left, in putting down the “bomb Iran” crowd, diminishes your credibility further. Finally, Leverett whom you quote positively was in the Bush Administration. Greenwald’s blanket accusation of any politicians to his right concerning freedom and democracy is a hypocritical projection of his own bad faith and depends on received opinion and fixed ideas rather than any analysis.

  63. There is no “list of assumptions”.

    And where did I say anything about the computer literacy of Iranians? Are we imagining things, because reading an article is too much of a challenge?

    Do you know what computer literacy means? Let me help you out: it does not mean having a Twitter account. Please, sort yourself out before you lecture anyone on matters of credibility. Clearly you face ample, stiff disagreement on the subject of the credibility of this piece.

    However, what we could do is speak about functional literacy, a subject for which some of the flamers here provide ample fodder.

  64. Wow – did you actually link to a page with a bunch of Iranian Twitter users in this piece above? I guess you know that is sensitive information that the Iranian Regime could use to go arrest and possibly beat/kill people? Oh really?? You didn’t??? True ignorance…or are you really that much against them??

  65. Thanks for writing this, because this is another “Twitter legend” that needs to be quickly demystified. Yes, there is true ignorance at work here, but I am afraid it is yours, for not asking yourself some very basic questions, and in the process you not only advocate erasing Iranian voices, you also assist in the spread of misinformation and propaganda. Who are you for?

    Fortunately, more lucid thinkers have produced useful documents such as this — Why “RT Iran” or “RT from Iran” doesn’t do what you think it does, and here is a summary of the key points:

    Why replacing @username with “RT from Iran” does not protect the original tweeter

    ► The proverbial cat is already out of the damned bag.
    ► The original tweet is easy to find
    ► Googling #hashtag + @username: Google #IranElection with any @username will show you everything that person has posted using that hashtag
    ► Many of these usernames have been broadcast on TV

    Why Twitter @usernames are not, in and of themselves, dangerous

    ► Anonymity on the internet is not new: Anonymity on the internet has been part of the internet since it first became accessible to the public. It works.
    ► A username is not tied to a geographic location.
    ► Twitter usernames are editable.

    Why replacing @usernames with “RT from Iran” is actually detrimental rather than helpful

    ► It denies them the pleasure of knowing they’re being heard.
    ► It prevents them from getting followers.
    ► It prevents tweets from being verified, assists disinformation and propaganda: There are now many people putting out disinformation via twitter with the #IranElection and #gr88 hashtags.
    ► The suggestion to remove usernames when retweeting could be part of a disinformation campaign to stem the flow of information for the reasons outlined above.
    ► Many Iranians are starting to counter this meme by stating specifically that it is OK to include their @username when retweeting

    Alright? Did you read it? Not just the above list, but the article itself?

    Stop being so patronizing and condescending, and I mean toward Iranian Twitter users, who have a little more “tech savvy” and consciousness than you, and who do not need lessons from some American in Lexington, Kentucky, about how to carry out resistance. The fact that any of them are even on the Internet, despite all the government filtering, suggests that these are not naive, unthinking people.

    Moreover, I personally corresponded with one Iranian twitter user who got absolutely fed up with the way people like you have swamped twitter’s #iranelection, and marginalized their voices.

    If you have any questions, just ask them. There is no need for the silly, smart ass flaming just because you are on the Internet and anonymous to others, and don’t jump to wild conclusions until you actually do some research and think for yourself instead of mindlessly repeating the garbage that is being retweeted as if it were all true.

  66. Put a mirror in front of their faces, and they hate what they see. Instead of engaging in self-reflection, they hurl flaming torches at you. Quite telling, if not amusing. Sounds like you’ve even pissed off some right-wing wing-nuts. Good. You’ve earned a new reader in me. Thank you for inspiring introspection. Keep up the good work.

  67. 4-Chan users probably. The /b crowd must be getting mega lulz out of this Iranian twitter revoloution.

  68. Thanks very much. In fact the discussion, as often happens, has really degenerated. In turning comment moderation back on I have caught several comments that were extremely inappropriate, laden with schoolyard insults. Some people seem to be taking this very, very personally, and these are not Iranian writers. Which leads one to wonder why they would think they are challenging the piece by providing living proof for it, that is, that the Twitter green movement is largely an American phenomenon that is premised on either ignoring or misrepresenting Iranians (including those who are in Twitter itself), and trying to take ownership over the protests, as if it will be the long-distance vicarious participants who will make the revolution for the Iranians. They seem to assume that Iranians need to be held by the hand — I have read countless messages about what items the protesters should carry with them to deal with the effects of tear gas, for example, and if the protesters had read and taken such advice seriously then each one would be pulling a suitcase on wheels to every protest march. University students are deeply engaged in the protests — yet the assumption is that none of them are chemistry or medicine students. Then they were told to flock to embassies, because embassies would be taking in protesters and treating them — again, if the protesters had read or cared for such advice, they might have found themselves led into traps: the reality according to the Canadian government is that NO embassies are taking in protesters, and I suspected from the start that embassies aiding protesters is not supported by international law, unless the receiving state has signed a treaty to the effect with the sending state, as often happens in Latin America. If the security forces in Iran imagined that protesters would seek such an escape route, they would be waiting for them at the embassies.

    This is one of the major differences I see between #iranelection and #griots — in the latter case, nobody presumed to tell the Greek protesters either how to protest, or what to do next.

  69. To think that I have been too busy to check, and the time might have been better spent there than in Twitter. I wish I could use some of this material in my cyberspace ethnography course, but it might exceed the allowable level of raunchiness even for a Montreal university. A lot of what I see up there now is pornography — Internet plus pornography, I think this has been overdone.

    In case any readers are wondering what 4-Chan or /b is, have a look at:
    and then maybe the site itself at

    In terms of /b-related material on Iran, all I could find in a few moments is:

    Wut? No Iran protest threads?

    Anonymous joins fight against tyranny in Iran

    More Assistance from Anonymous for Iran [#iranElection]

    Anonymous Iran

    Thanks for raising this, because it is an angle that I ignored in the article itself. Of course the question remains: how many of these Anonymous /b people are Iranian?

  70. I value quantitative data analyses, and try to use them when I can understand them and their complexities (in other words, rarely). It is not clear to me what are the preliminary hypotheses or conclusions that you draw from this quantitative study, aside from very interesting statistics, and findings such as #iranelection accounting for 42% of all tweets, rather than a majority. Incidentally, this point might not be as important as one might think: no other discussion stream on Iran matched #iranelection in size, and it was larger than several of the others put together. Moreover, the news media also privileged the position of #iranelection, and openly linked to it from their news websites — so everything taken together tells me that while #iranelection may not be the whole, it is the representative and important part. Also, early on, there were mutations of #iranelection because some could not decide on the best tag, so I would see three, including #iranelections. In addition, “Iran” might not be a good choice, unless it was #iran, because the hashtag symbolizes the intent of the user to contribute to a discussion deliberately, and be seen by others (think of “I once had a really good meal in Iran” versus “Show your solidarity for the protesters! #iranelection“). I was not clear about whether you followed Iran or #iran, because sometimes you drop the hashtags from terms (I would recommend to always include them, if users include them). Prominence and influence is still problematic, even with numerical volume and number of retweets (which spam bots can generate) — this is a much more challenging set of concepts that require qualitative probing in terms of how social capital is constructed, gained, held, and whether offline social capital might be more significant in influencing the thinking of online users, even while they retweet massive amounts of tweets from other Twitter users. In other words, I may retweet 100 items from @johndoe, and suddenly it seems that @johndoe is a significant point of reference for me…except that all of my interventions are ultimately informed by the theories of Pierre Bourdieu, who I never retweet or mention, not even once — @johndoe just happens to be momentarily and incidentally of interest and use. My retweet can also be read in different ways by my followers, who may be familiar with my perspectives — if I am a Mousavi supporter, and my followers know that, and I then RT @janedoe Ahamdinejad conclusively and decisively won, no fraud! #iranelection then my followers will know, and snicker within our circuit, about my RT which essentially suggests “look at what this idiot is posting” (without needing to say so). Now the statistician comes in, finds my RT, and chalks it up to a person’s “influence” — that may work, but you need to take pains in defining the term and the theories that come into play might be referenced.

    Otherwise, without any doubt, I think your study is very interesting and important and I would like to read more when you have more reports ready. Again, thanks for posting the link here, and in fact I have now circulated it on Twitter itself too.

  71. A big tribute and lot of respect to Maximilian,
    We were very interested by this analysis, that we found in Al Jazeera…Arabic version
    We want to know if there is a french version of this article, we want to distribute it largly…
    You are a prefesor in Montréal, is there any french websites that you recomand us
    This documentary relates the same procesus (colorated revolutions) in Venezuela
    Thank you

  72. i want to thank the author for this very informative article.
    this is the problem with all media means. in the past, we were looking for a solution for the traditional media which are controlled by the elites and big powers. it was believed that the power imbalance would hinder the process of democratization of the democracy as the wealth imbalance will result in unfair and immoral competition. now, we are living in the new information order. we thought the new information order would give a chance to the voiceless to partake in the empowerment process which will result in diversified media. sadly, this is not what is happening now because we are back to the zero-point which is the imbalance of power. the power states are capable of flooding the online websites with their propaganda. at the end of the day, democracy is the victim because this systematic misinformation would definitely steer the public opinion to the wrong direction.

  73. It took me a while to realize that the aljazeera link is actually a reproduction in Arabic of my article, and in fact I needed someone to confirm that for me. If I knew who to thank, I would have thanked them for taking the trouble to translate the article.

    Unfortunately, my French is too basic to produce a translation, and I wish I could recommend good French websites.

    Many thanks for letting me know about this, and for the links. Very best wishes.

  74. Thanks very much.

    I agree, it really has been an eye-opening experience, one that causes many of us to revise our previously optimistic views of the democratic power of social media.

  75. Where can i find your contact e-mail professor? I want to ask you about some questions regarding the social media.

  76. I confirm the link in Aljazeera is a translation to your link professor. I actually came to know about you from They did not translate everything but one can say that it is a professional translation.

  77. Dear Prof. Maximilian,
    I confirm, the related link to Al-Jazeera is a very good translation of your article, you can send your feedback to
    Also I recommend you this article wich deals with the colorated revolutions , you have it in English, french and spanish. This link points to a good Press Network (non aligned), that you may already know.
    Friendly yours
    Al-Amin Abû ILYES

  78. Hello,
    With your probable authority ;) and your Name I’ve translated this article in Farsi (Persian) and I’ve sent it to a famous Iranian news site for publishing. ( ) … Thanks for this good Article , We Iranians should think of a way to speak instead of ourselves and not allow others speak instead of us.
    Nice to know you…
    Best Regards
    Sayed Ahmed Moosavi

  79. I am very grateful, many thanks for doing this. Interesting comment as well: my intervention in debates about Honduras in Twitter has been met, sometimes in Spanish, with the exact opposite reaction of what we saw with Iran in Twitter — many people protesting that foreigners stay out of their debates, “what do you know,” “have you ever been to Honduras,” “I am in Honduras now and I know what is going on,” etc., if anything trying to push back against foreign opinion, whereas in the case of #iranelection it seemed that it was foreign (i.e. especially American) opinion that was being courted and that dominated.

  80. Definitly the best analysis of the “Twitter revolution” I’ve seen. Good going Max!

    Frunchdude, it reminds me of Israel’s ago old motto of “crying and shooting” (because we’re so damn moral- in case you missed the bloody-handed cynicism)

  81. I’m not even gonna dignify that one with a reading. Down with Zionist propaganda and its taking over of the Jewish religion! (just having a private twitter intifada, if you don’t mind ;) )

  82. Michael, I don’t know your motives, so I’ll tread carefully. What you did with this comment is stopping short of calling Max anti-Semite. I’d be careful with these kind of accusations, as we all know “new anti-Semitism” is the new “wolf” , Zionists have been crying for ages now. At no point in the article did Max say “Jews”- you, on the other hand, did.

    Though I doubt any twitter organizing on the part of Israel- really, Israelis don’t need any incentive to bash on Iran and call it a terrorist state- Hasbara is so etched in our abused minds, most Israelis will participate in it instinctively, and so will many Jews around the world.

    On the other hand, Israeli authorities and media didn’t really care much for the “Iranian revolution”, beyond the systematic alignment it needs to do every once in a while, in order to “appease the Americans”. The irony for me, as I was coming back from my own protest, being tear gassed and shot at, was hearing on radio talk shows the analysis that Iran is a tyrannical fascist state. When in fact, in Israel, the elections need not be rigged- it’s been an orgy of Labor-Likud, since it’s inception, and the media doesn’t contest this, but is mobilized by the state.

    I’d also like to take this opportunity to address the term conspiracy theory:
    1. Conspiracy implies something secretive- The Zionist control of the media, in Israel and in the US is no secret. Feel free to look up CAMARA, for example.
    2. “Conspiracy theory” used to be a neutral term, abused by those in power, since the 60’s, to discredit dissent. Though I disagree with Max, on that point, I don’t think he stressed it enough to even comment about it. And I do agree that Israel has much to “gain”, by screaming Iran is fascist, hoping it would push the US to do what it did in Iraq. Most probably, the reason they didn’t , is because they saw Obama just isn’t going that rout.

    My point is, that when you use this term, along with the accusation of anti-Semitism and equating Max with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (i.e. “Muslim apologist”/”Hamas apologist”/”Hezbollah apologist”), you are demonizing him, using Zionist tactics, no less.

  83. I recomend

    Democracy Now! –
    The Real News Network –
    Znet –

    Too much emphasis is put on the importance of moment to moment news. Although timely news is important, I think that can be gathered in bites from the mainstream media. You just have to be wary about what is reported, and about half a day later go out to serious journalists, you trust (accumulating sources you trust takes some active effort on your part, but is totally worth it in the long run), and get the meaningful analysis. That way you make sure that you’re not being fed a load of bollocks, not to mention you will, at that moment become a responsible citizen of the world, which is sourly lacking right now.

  84. Sayed,
    Finally an Iranian voice! I think many of us would like to hear serious, in depth Iranian analysis of the situation (not just on-the-moment twitters). It’s probably just as hard for you to asses your situation right now, as it is for anyone outside- it’s just a little too soon. But you have one right that none of us have, and that is to express what you want. What we/Americans/the international community wants, is irrelevant, unless it chooses to support you and your rights.

    This correlates with Max’s comment. I think the Latin Americans are fed up with outside interference. And it’s no surprise. The question of interference is pivotal today, as we see all the destruction it has wrought. In my experience with the Palestinians (where I will always be an outsider, even though/because I come in solidarity), at anytime, when coming from outside, with good intentions, we should make an extreme effort to be delicate. I have my own firm opinions of the situation, but their wish is the first on my agenda. I find that asking questions is a good way to start true debate, which the aim of is learning and not telling.

    As a Palestinian friend once said to me “Because if and when your repentance is genuine it will automatically show in your actions”- I think that if our care is genuine, for our fellow human beings, it will automatically show in our actions.

  85. I guess the hearts were in the right place with all the Iran tweets but I swear some of the same people who were tinting their avatars green said absolutely nothing about the election shenanigans happening in our own country 9 years ago.

    I know Twitter wasn’t “invented” then but I can’t help but wonder if these gestures were about “me, too”. As soon as I heard the the State Department was suggesting to Twitter that they delay a scheduled downtime, I knew this was basically about American propaganda. I guess “our guy” lost the election over there.

  86. […] Or that the communication methods themselves are predisposed toward carrying a specific type of “social change” meme – twitter, for example, was predisposed t…. […]

  87. […] America’s Iranian Twitter Revolution Open Anthropology, Maximilian C. Forte, 17 June 2009 Extract: “So in this Twitter revolution, Twitter is not representative of Internet users, Internet use is not representative of a wider population, the youth are not representative of the youth, and the Iranians may not even be Iranian. Fantastic indeed, this power of ’social media’.” […]



    I don’t know how could someone possibly write such bullshits!! If you don’t like US’s politics, that’s fine. but remember, THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS NOT ALWAYS MY FRIEND. you hate US gov, US gov hates Iran gov, so you think you should LOVE Iran gov??!!

    sorry for bad English :-)

    however, it doesn’t matter. just wait 1 month. in a month, the colleges will open AND THEN YOU CAN SEE IS THIS A REVOLUTION OR NOT!! just wait :-))

  89. No, I was not claiming anything. A specific claim was made on a specific day that 3 million people had come out on the streets, and there was no such massive demonstration.

    As far as anyone knows, the army never attacked people. The paramilitary and the police did. Different institutions, with different political implications in their use, which is why the regime never dared to use the army.

    There may in fact be a language problem here. Don’t be so quick to judge something “bullshit” unless you can prove your claims. By the way, there is in fact a lot of bullshit on YouTube, so just telling people to look at it, is quite meaningless.

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