Social networks, especially Twitter and Facebook, which are not older than three years, are among the most important means of communication and news sources.
Facebook is the fifth most visited website in the world, and the number of its members has exceeded 200 million users by the end of 2008.
As for Twitter, this platform has received the approbation of millions of users, and many companies working in the media field.
These networks have recently offset the real public space and conventional media means that were prevented from performing their job by the government in Iran.
The power of these networks lies in their ease of use and their widespread reach to a large number of people in a short time.
Twitter offers a micro-blogging service centered around the question “What are you doing now?”, allowing its users to send updates on their status with a maximum of 140 characters per message, from personal computers and mobile phones.
These updates are a series of links to images and articles on other sites. Therefore, each update taken individually does not seem to have major importance, but when comments are combined, they create an atmosphere that reflects the feelings of the moment, and help to mobilize consensus.
That’s how Facebook and Twitter could gather demonstrators against governments in several countries. Facebook could publish details on the shooting at the Virginia Tech University in the United States, and on the Bombay attacks in November 2008 as soon as they occurred. It also played a major role in the Moldova events. Facebook had an impact on the political scene in Egypt as well, especially after an Egyptian girl named Israa Abdel Fattah created a Facebook group on which she called for a strike on 6 April 2008, and which had more than 71,000 members join it. In Tunisia, the importance of Facebook emerged during the unions’ struggle, as the website played a crucial role in supporting the strike of the occasional officers in radio and television.
The fast communication system of Twitter has succeeded in attracting attention, since the Iranian protesters on the outcomes of the presidential elections resorted to it to call to resistance, to the extent that the U.S. State Department called for postponing the maintenance operations of the site that would have led to suspending the service, in order to allow Iranians to continue their activities.
However, the phrase «Twitter revolution» that the Moldova and Iran events were associated with seems to be exaggerated. According to a report by «The New York Times», only a small number of people used Twitter to organize protests in Iran, while other means such as the exchange of text messages, traditional oral conversations, and Persian websites, played a more influential role. Twitter, however, proved to be a serious tool in the process of mobilizing international public opinion, which explained why some governments banned it, such as Syria, Iran, Myanmar, Bhutan, Tunisia, and Israel. But most of these countries allowed its use again, due to the pressure of public opinion and of the media.
We can question the degree of credibility of the process of creating information on these sites, given the lack of accurate information on them and the lack of clarity of sources. Most bloggers hide behind pseudonyms, and they are not well versed in press editing, unlike the news published on professional traditional means of information.
While Twitter had helped to spread the initial reports from Tehran, it had also contributed to the dissemination of inaccurate information, and even misleading information. An article that was published on the True/Slant website highlighted some of the errors on Twitter that bloggers published and replicated quickly, including that: three million people were demonstrating on the last weekend in Tehran (while they were in fact about a few hundreds of thousands), that Mir Hussein Moussavi – the opposition candidate – was in custody in his house (although he was seen outside his house), and that the Chairman of the committee monitoring the elections had declared null and void the elections on Saturday (which never happened).
However, the pre-mentioned weaknesses remain acceptable compared to the flaws of traditional media, which compel more than ever with the agenda of political decision makers, and no longer reflect the facts of reality but on rare occasions.
The most important and positive role that these blogs can play is putting pressure on the media to get rid of the influence of the political agenda.
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