There is no doubt that social media (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and the like) is playing a crucial role in the continuing protests surrounding the Iranian presidential election. There is no more definitive proof than the futile efforts of the government of that country to stop the flow of information such sites are providing. It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. The more the government cracks down, the more tweets, blogposts, and YouTube videos appear.
And that’s all good. This activity will show people around the world that one unintended by-product of the Internet age is the difficulty in using traditional means to censor opposition speech. In fact, one could argue that without the constant stream of worldwide coverage there might not have been a recount of some votes, nor the admission Monday that there were at least 3 million “irregularities”.
However, there are also a few caveats for this brave new world of social networking news coverage. While it’s true that US media have either had severe restrictions put on their coverage (and yes, some journalists have been detained) or have been banned outright, the reliance on social media by CNN, Fox News, MSNBC etc. comes with some risks. The news outlets say the tweets and footage they’ve aired has been fully verified. I would take them at their word on that (some might not).
Yet isn’t there something just a little off putting about gigantic news organizations being reliant on citizen journalists? If I worked for one of those outlets, I’d be nervous. Somewhere in the bowels of these big news groups is an accountant whose wondering whether this type of coverage can be used in other applications. And whether that outlet needs as much high priced talent as they now utilize if Twitter subscribers will do the work for them at little or no cost.
Think it can’t happen? Consider that back in the day, the big network news operations and major newspapers had bureaus around the world. Fast forward to now, and you see that few of them do. Oh, and those same big networks are taking a back seat in their Iranian coverage to the 24 hour cable networks. In other words, we are seeing a paradigm shift in news gathering and coverage. While it may not be a bad thing, we ought to ask if the quality of the news we’re consuming is up to snuff.
I’m not saying it isn’t, but these social networking sites can be manipulated on a number of different levels. Iran is an example where they’ve appeared to have done some good. We all ought to be aware that there could be another shoe, and one day that one may drop.
You tell me. Has social networking coverage of the Iranian protests been a good thing?