Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tehran a-Twitter

Journalists have been under virtual house-arrest as the mullahs in Persia try to squelch what started out as a stolen-vote protest but is now evidently a youth revolution. Youth revolutions, as we know, are tough to squelch without either pots of money to bundle kids off to college and the suburbs, or a deep roster of brutal bench-players ready to come on the field with brickbats and piano-wire.

As the mullahs whirl and wobble in the wind of protest, and as journalists speak sotto voce into secure phones, what's kept CNN and the rest of the West informed are the so-called "social networking" technologies now come of age.

Witness Twitter--of which much fun has been made when, say, an Ashley Tisdale-level celebri-star lets her followers know her hat-size. Now it is the single best source of immediate news coverage on the scene of what is certainly the most important political movement in Iran since they took the hostages. Like a thousand tiny salamanders slipping through grasping clerical fingers, these brief missives from the angry streets are letting the world know of thousands on the march, men and women, of beatings, of tear-gas, of open revolt against the foundational, turban-bedecked figures of the regime itself.

Witness Facebook--where the opposition leader Moussavi has pronounced his readiness to commit himself to martyrdom. Proving itself more than just a place for posting pix of beer-pong escapades, Facebook has now given voice to perhaps the most profound promise every posted to it.

During the new Iranian revolution Facebook and Twitter, streaming out images and commentary banned by the regime, have combined to make quite obvious the power that the atomization of mass media has long promised.

Facebook and Twitter prove that media--and information--really do want to be free. And they prove that when in the hands of those not just longing for freedom but with little left to lose, they become powerful weapons beyond the control of even the most sullen official opprobrium.

We have yet to see what happens when the youthful string of Iranian frustration plays out to its fullest length. But however it does so, we know even now that "social media", heretofore considered a lightweight in the world of communications, will have helped define it.