Twitter & Iran: The New Cassette Tape

Thoughts By 8 years ago

Much has been made of the role of Twitter in the recent elections in Iran, from an excellent article on this site by Emily, to countless articles in the mainstream media (try putting “Iran” and “Twitter” into Google News).

Twitter’s role in the ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran has largely been that of a dissenting voice against the election results on the 12th, and the covering – and creating? – the street violence that followed on the result, and publicising it to the outside world.  In this role twitter has been hailed as revolutionary, and instrumental in events – achieving things not capable of traditional media.

Yet a quick check on Iran’s history suggests this may not be the case.  The 1979 revolution was fomented by audio cassette tape (yes, those same cassette tapes you used to listen to Rick Astley on).  Recorded tapes of Ayatollah Khomeini’s sermons in Najaf were distributed through the underground, to undermine the brutal and secular regime of the Shah.  The medium was new, flexible, easily used and easily disseminated and delivered messages all across Iran which the regime could not control.

In short, while Twitter may be a feature of these events, it is not the cause.  In the term Social Media it is the social, the message, that is important, not medium itself, which is of course just a means of delivery.  Indeed within Iran itself the distribution of paper leaflets and the use of mobile phones have been the most popular means of actually organising the demonstrations.

  • Very interesting, but what I don’t understand is why Twitter is being used, why not a blog or facebook? Also, is Twitter just a fad, and the micro-blogging platform the tool which will be around to stay?

  • Good questions, and the answer to both, is I’m not sure.

    I suspect Twitter has been used because it is more accessible than facebook. Twitter is easily accessible, easily understood, and trendy. These things matter. Twitter is essentially a global SMS – when Nokia developed the SMS, people said it was ludicrous, and no one would use such a restrictive technology, I mean, you have to type! and read! and only 160 characters! Yet it found its niche, I for one prefer SMS to calling. Twitter has a similar appeal. Blogs are long, often boring, facebook is personal, for friends. Twitter is a broadcast, and its instant, succinct, powerful and trendy.

    But I suspect there are some other forces at play in Iran, and it is once more the social, not the medium that is important. There’ll be a post shortly the more logistical/network aspects of what’s happened in Iran with Twitter. The Ayatollahs were installed by co-opting student revolution, and spreading dissent via cassette tape. No one doubts the Ayatollahs have changed the fabric of Iranian society (at times for the better), yet how often do you hear people say cassettes changed the society? Twitter found a niche because it delivered a message in the right way, and the right time.