Sunday, June 28, 2009

Twitter Iran and MJ

I posted a comment on the Videogum website on a post titled "Go To Bed, Twitter, It Is Your Bedtime". The comment was not published (democratic??) so I added to it and post it here.

"Go To Bed, Twitter, It Is Your Bedtime" includes the observations:

Michael Jackson died yesterday, RIP 4 Real, which is when Twitter did what Twitter does worst: go completely crazy. Look, I understand that people want to get the word out there, but there's something about Twitter's implication that everyone is a newsmaker that is ridiculous.

The concept of community aggregation is also part of the Twitter's affordances I would argue. One of the Twitter feeds I followed at the time of MJs death was from a obsessed fan who seemed to be profoundly overcome by the news of her idol's demise. Sharing this feeling with others was made possible by Twitter. Maybe it helped her come to terms with it?


All of this came just days after the Twitter eruption over Iran. I'm not talking about the actual Twitter eruption over Iran as conducted by Iranians. I'm talking about the Brooklyn co-option of the Twitter eruption over Iran. Of course, you can't really say anything too mean about people changing the color of their avatar in support of a totally worthwhile cause, because even if it is completely meaningless, hearts are in the right places. But also haha. Really?

To which I reply:

Twitter can be used in many different ways. You restrict these to changing the colour of the avatar, making jokes and tweeting (yes it does feel ridiculous) about events in a place other than where one lives. It does not define the whole range of behaviours I have seen on the site. I would also add that Twitter is a small, but currently noisy, part of a much larger thing. It will be popular for a while yet but by the end of the year it will have gone the way of Second Life as far as the public imagination (i.e. old media channels) is concerned.
Twitter is also being used by the repressive authorities in Iran to track and arrest people, so it is not really something I would call "democratic" or a source of "dissent" in itself. It is a tool, that allows for communication from a relatively privileged many to a relatively privileged many. It is not going to save us or Iran.

Next Go to bed Twitter featured a video:

So there were also lots of jokes about that on Twitter last night, too, about how Iran must be so mad that Michael Jackson's death has taken over the one democratic means of overt dissent. Or about how quickly people threw Iran into the garbage now that Michael Jackson died. You know, jokes. And anyway, all of this is just to say that the ridiculousness of Twitter and this strange convergence of events was captured in this video perfectly:

Still images of the turmoil in Iran with MJ's Beat It as the sound. Clever convergence of topics; MJ,s death, the Iran situation and the lyrics of a mega-hit single that seem to match both if read the right way. The video is a clever example of a digital mash-up. I would argue that it has little to do with the situation in Iran and more to do with contemporary online culture. While the author of the video is attributed to be from Hungary (despite the video telling the 'fanatics' to 'get out of my land'), this mash-up style can be traced back to the sound systems of Jamaica and its diaspora (See DJ Spooky). From Jamaica to the world via the (USA controlled) internet. What role does Iran play in this; the images. Distributing the images of what is happening in Iran is important and since all non-government approved journalists are banned from working in Iran, the distribution of these images has found other channels. These images are created by the people in the streets, taking great risks and often using mobile phone cameras (which the police and Basiji search protestors for) and they are then distributed via websites, BitTorrent, TwitterPics and servers. The URLs for these images are often linked to from Twitter. Many of the images in the video probably came into the control of the video maker Mydorood via Twitter. These images are also tracked and analyzed by the security forces in Iran and as a result of the flood of images coming out of the Islamic Republic, some of their subjects have probably paid with their lives.

Finally, I believe we should respect what those who oppose the regime in Iran are doing. These images and scraps of information that are distributed via Twitter and other network sites are important. However, we should not overestimate the medium, either by ‘hating it’ or assigning it powers which it clearly does not have.

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