Twitter: The ‘Forest Gump of International Relations’

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Weighing Twitter trust / screenshot: Twitter search
Weighing Twitter trust / screenshot: Twitter search

This is just a tiny, tiny word of caution to remember as we take in the Twitter feeds, YouTube videos and other user-generated content from Iran.

First, although it’s invigorating to see the amount of info being passed on Twitter, I think there may be a quantity vs quality issue going on. I won’t go as far as Kara Swisher and call it the ‘Forrest Gump of International Relations’, but some of the tweets I’m seeing are…well…if not exactly Forrest Gump material, then maybe that of his long lost cousin who made it out of Savannah, Georgia before he did.

Second, can what’s being tweeted or uploaded be trusted? Twitter has no system of checks and balances. Neither does YouTube or any other service. I could easily open up an account and tweet what I could call latest from Tehran, right here from my perch in Zurich, and no one would know. There’s already a watchlist of purported fake Iran election Tweeters making the rounds.

And allow me to toss in a portion of an email I sent to a friend last night:

“Twitter is just a means of communication, an efficient means, but at the end, just a means. For the past year or so, anytime some type of movement starts, folks want to label it a ‘Twitter Revolution’ or start analyzing, yet again, the impact. As a matter of fact, if I see one more headline with ‘Twitter Revolution’ I’m going to scream. They said that about Moldova. They talked about the Twitter effect during the Gaza war, and so on […]. I believe that social media tools are important, but let’s not forget that a revolution of the day takes on the most popular, and perhaps latest form of communication of the day.”

The telegraph’s major role during the US Civil War is an example.

Which leads me to my third point: It’s not Twitter, it’s the people.

Yes, Twitter *does* serve a purpose. There is a media lockdown underway (but our Kamal Naser Yasin broke through this morning, big kudos to him) so it’s hard to get information out. Twitter helps combat this. And the service is an great way for the hundreds of thousands of brave protesters in Tehran to organize. But as we’re checking our devices for the latest info, keep two things in mind:

  • Social media tools are important, but they’re also the current hip tools of the day. The TV, radio and even the fax machine have also had an impact.
  • Tweetable doesn’t automatically mean ‘reliable.’

It’s easy to get caught up in the sexiness of social media. When you blend it with vox populi, election intrigue and the battle to beat the 24-hour-news cycle, the results can be either orgasmic or cataclysmic.

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