|June 19, 2009|
|Revolutionary Hype for Twitter|
|By Greg Hazley|
|Maybe it's just the hyperbole of social media that inevitably gives a story legs too tall to stand on.|
Twitter became the toast of the Iranian uprising in the past week as disgruntled citizens of the Islamic Republic tweeted their frustrations and organized dissent via 140-characters messages.
The U.S. State Department even asked the social networking service to postpone maintenance that would have taken it offline. At least that's what many mainstream news outlets reported. That claim drew an aw-shucks response (as well as a complete denial) from Twitter founder Biz Stone.
Out of competitive spirit (or even jealousy), Facebook and Google are ramping up their Farsi-language products in the wake of the Twitter love fest.
But what started out as a feel-good story of social media technology doing good has taken a detour toward over-hype, second-guessing, and even absurdity.
BusinessWeek's Joel Schechtman took a gush of air out of the Twitter-Iran hype in reporting that most of the organizing in Iran has occured "through far more mundane means" like text messages and word of mouth.
"I think the idea of a Twitter revolution is very suspect," Gaurav Mishra, co-founder of 20:20 WebTech, a company that analyzes the effects of social media, told Schectman. "The amount of people who use these tools in Iran is very small and could not support protests that size."
One estimate put the number of Twitter users in Iran at only around 8,000.
The first Twitter revolution occurred in Moldova, way back in April, before Twitter hit the cover of Time magazine. That uprising failed, but the ability of users to organize quickly was demonstrated on a small scale for the world to see.
There's no question about social media's ability to organize -- the strongest evidence is sitting at a desk in the Oval Office as you read this -- but there are times like this week when the marveling and awe need to be turned down a notch.
And never mind your friends who have bathed their Twitter icons in green to show, well, whatever -- but Rep. Peter "soundbite" Hoekstra helped things get out of hand this week when he compared the Iranian digital dissent to his party's own frustration at Congress being shut down last year over an energy bill. "Iranian twitter activity similar to what we did in House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House," he tweeted, drawing a healthy backlash. His spokesman had an incomprehensible explanation for the tweet. One critic volleyed back by comparing his move to a new office without a corner view to the Trail of Tears. Another lamented, "Someone walked in on me while I was in the bathroom. Reminded me of Pearl Harbor."
Like many narratives that travel through or originate from the social media realm, things can get wacky in a hurry.
Mehdi Yahyanejad, who heads a Farsi-language news site based in Los Angeles, told the Washington Post that most of the Twittering about Iran is happening outside its borders. "Twitter's impact inside Iran is zero," he said. "Here, there is lots of buzz, but once you look ... you see most of it are Americans tweeting among themselves."
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