Bill Maher’s recent comment that “Twitter didn’t save Iran. Iran saved Twitter” has sparked some debate about the use of social media and its relevance to important issues and events.
Personally, I don’t think Maher’s comment hits the mark. Twitter wasn’t a service that needed saving, nor is it alone responsible for helping promote Iranian protests. It would be more accurate to say that Iran helped the general public realize Twitter’s potential, and that Twitter is one component of a new media toolset that is enabling activists in oppressive regimes to communicate where state-run media dominates.
The situation in Iran shows the world that the communications game has changed. It isn’t Twitter or Facebook specifically, but the general principle of online and mobile communication.
Mashable created a social media timeline of the Iran Election crisis. It shows how a wide range of online tools have played a role in getting the stories of Iranian protesters to the outside world. These tools range from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to Flickr and even Wikipedia.
The essence of the matter is that previously if a country expelled all foreign journalists and had a state-run media, the world would have no way of knowing what was happening within its borders. The emergence of online and mobile technology has turned every person with a camera, cell phone, or computer into an amateur journalist; on location and with unfiltered access journalists have never truly enjoyed.
While it may be a while before these new media tools can change the game everywhere (Africa is still largely left behind, and they could use it the most), the Iran election protests have shown the world what online organizers have known for some time now: social media has fundamentally advanced the way we communicate and coordinate.