Votes and Violence in Iran

During the Mumbai attacks, I said that “social media has come of age”. But now, looking at the Iranian events, I worry about that. Establishing awareness is not the same as ensuring a critical mass of people for effective action.

Its frustrating to maintain a blog, yet fail to comment on some of the most potent stories of the moment.  Nothing doing here on the expenses row or the election of a new speaker.

Worse still, nothing on the ongoing protests and violence, following the recent disputed elections in Iran.  That’s not to say I’m not engaged with what is happening.  I’ve been following the pleas for help via the #iranelection tag on Twitter, and looking various photostreams on Flickr.

During the street protests that followed the Mumbai attacks, I said that social media has come of age.  But now, looking at the Iranian events, I worry about that.  First, we have seen that the network is still vulnerable to interference from governments.  And second, raising awareness of an event is not the same as establishing consensus, much less ensuring there is a critical mass of people for effective action.

I discussed this briefly in a post about the Burmese Monks protest (the short-lived “Saffron Revolution”) in September 2007.  Despite the use of the Internet as a co-ordination tool, it seems that critical mass – or, to be more precise, the right kind of critical mass – is still an elusive Pot of Gold.

Protesters assist a riot policeman in distress in Tehran Protesters assist a riot policeman in distress in Tehran
Protesters assist a riot policeman in distress in Tehran

Update (13th July)

The image above, of protesters helping a battered policeman detatched from his riot-unit, was removed from Flickr a few days after being posted. It returned a few days later, with the faces of the protesters blurred. Apparently, the authorities have been using social networking sites to identify protesters and target them for arrest (or worse). That’s the dark side of new media.

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