I spent much of my weekend glued to the Internet, transfixed by the images and words coming from Iran. Unable to keep up with the flow coming from Twitter, I turned to Andrew Sullivan’s excellent Daily Dish, where he has published a digest of the more reliable Twitter sources, as well as videos and commentary as they became available. He has done amazing job.
In my life, I’ve seen many regimes dramatically fall. I remember the exit of the Shah in Iran, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Czech Velvet Revolution, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example. And who can forget the failed attempts, including the brutal Chinese crackdown on students in Tiananmen Square?
What is happening in Iran today is different – more stark, more real, more vivid. The difference between what is happening in Iran and other revolutions is Twitter, YouTube, and the modern cellular phone equipped with a camera. Never before has the world been able to experience first hand what’s happening on the ground this way. Iranians are amongst the most prolific users of social networking tools in the world. Rather than organize social events and dates with those tools, they’re now using them to organize rallies.
We’re not just observing, either. Across the globe, supporters of Iran’s Green Movement are actively working to thwart the Iranian government’s efforts to shut down communications by setting up proxy servers to allow communication to continue. Massive denial of service attacks were launched by activists last week in what basically amounted to counter-attacks against the regime. On Twitter, supporters search for information – how to combat tear gas, which embassies will accept wounded and injured, etc. – and publish it to the people fighting in the streets.
Because of the active involvement of so many people across the globe, traditional media has taken a back seat to the hands-on citizen “journalists” who are breaking new stories every day. For example, yesterday morning Chatham House published an analysis of election irregularities showing that, among other things, in several places in Iran more votes had been cast than there were registered voters. Sullivan wrote about it at 10:54 AM. CNN’s story ran much later in the day.
As the outrage mounts, fanned by communications tools and the immediate and graphic testimony and images such as the death of young Neda Agha-Soltan, the role of the global communications network in establishing our common humanity has been starkly illustrated. Today we are not only Canadian, British, American, Chinese or French. We’re Iranian too. Whether or not the people on the ground in Tehran win their battle, that is a fundamental and important change for all of us.