While news of out Iran is slowing down with the repression of the first wave of street violence, and a continuing lack of hard evidence the election was rigged, the role that twitter and other web 2.0 applications played continues to be debated.
The Alliance of Youth Movements (AYM), a summit between youth leaders and industry such as Google, Facebook, NBC, and MTV set up by the US State Department, has the stated goal of “creating and promoting use of technological tools to advance … democracy”, and has a series of How To articles set up on its website aimed at grass roots, web 2.0 activism. The State Department was also involved, along with NYU, in the Democracy Video Challenge, a series of user-submitted YouTube clips.
The US of course has a long history of ‘advancing democracy’ all around the world, indeed here in Australia for example, Quadrant magazine was set up with CIA funding in the 1960s to promote US and, err, democratic ideas. AYM seems to bringing this into the 21st century – what Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs James Glassman calls Public Diplomacy 2.0, who states “the intent of the work involving domestic audiences is to influence foreign audiences.” – that is, use Social Media to promote US influence internationally, and at home – the latter being illegal under the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948.
In regards to Iran, Some basic research done by the Pak Alert Press blog reveals that the majority of tweets coming out of Iran were from accounts set up on the day after they election – that is to say, not long standing tweeters, but accounts set up specifically to push the line the election was rigged.
The US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton stated that a military attack on Iran would “be a ‘last option’ after economic sanctions and attempts to foment a popular revolution had failed.” That puts the US on record as stating it wishes to overthrow the Iranian regime through a popular revolution, and combined with the State Department’s increasing focus on Social Media as a way of disseminating its message, portrays the tweets from Iran (all in English remember) in an potentially very different light.
The message here is that social media needs to be read as critically as traditional media. Just because the message is coming from a medium that is modern, and has the potential to independent, doesn’t mean its not being used as propaganda by some traditional power sources.