Bang-Bang Beats Tweet-Tweet

“Guns trump cellphones,” writes Thomas Friedman in his New York Times column today.
“Bang-bang beats tweet-tweet.” He was referring to the power of Iranian government to crush the protesters by simply bringing out the guns. The uprising in Iran is unique in that moderates, which have failed to gain power in recent elections in the Middle East, can for the first time mobilize support via the Internet. Previously whoever controlled the mosques controlled the state. Twitter and YouTube have changed that equation in Iran.

Friedman rightly fears for the ultimate longevity of the Twitter Revolution on the streets of Tehran. “I doubt Ahmadinejad will go peacefully,” he writes. However, even if the Twitter Revolution succeeds in installing Mir Hussein Moussavi in the presidency, the political economy of Iran could remain essentially intact. Moussavi, remember, has refused to renounce Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In other words, technological change, by itself, isn’t enough to bring about social and political change, especially if the economic order remains intact. No one owns the Internet, but vested interests own the network. Already the Revolutionary Guards are making noises about shutting down all digital online media that many
Iranians use to communicate among themselves and to send news of their
protests overseas. If the Guards succeed in shutting down the cellphone networks–and they’ve been nearly successful at least once before–no more Tweets with be heard from Iran.



  1. While I fully acknowledge that satellite communication and transmission of photos and films are crucial to the situation in Iran and may even play a decisive part in the final outcome, I feel there is a tendency all around to see twittering or emailing as THE mission to accomplish. This could make the overall picture (!) appear doubly tragic: I have only once been in a position to have to see a short video of the casualties in the streets of major cities in Iran. (I’ve had a chance to see a little bit in the flesh as it were, so am logically enough not too excited about seeing it all on tape as well.)
    The wounded, apparently unconscious young man could be seen lying prostrate and bleeding on the ground, surrounded by a host of other protesters who took a good 7 or 8 seconds before they bent forward to help the man and to try to get him on his feet. What was odd was the crowd standing around the body on the floor wasn’t shocked into inaction. What they were busy doing in those 8 or so seconds was taking as many pictures of the wounded man as possible using their cellphones. Before the age of imaging this would have been considered cold-blooded. Not so now, it seems.


  2. Hi Mano! I was wondering if anything had happened to you.
    I was also wondering if people were competing to take videos and still photos of the violence before helping its victims–whether everyone had been turned into a photojournalist.
    That said, the images are gripping. I don’t watch TV news, and the newspaper accounts don’t any of the immediacy–or range of coverage–of the Twitter feeds. I’d heard that Twitter and Facebook were used by the protesters to direct outside attention to the protests, and not to organize them internally.


  3. Hi Richard! I’ve been OK but not so OK. Hope is an awful aspiration! May I come out with it and tell you how delighted (and grateful) I was when I found you had written on the events in Iran? And your point is valid: we need to communicate it all as best we can. So I’m not finding anyone remiss, least of all those who were close enough to the scenes of the worst deeds done to record them. And, if one is absolutely honest with oneself, that little distance with ‘what’s happening on the ground’ is always there, automatically provided by the brain , even or especially when one’s witnessing it first hand, as it is so easy to momentarily be driven insane otherwise. More like a bad taste lingering in the mouth, and rather personal, is my mistrust of the two dimensional world of images, but even I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to reproduce from memory only, as our ancestors presumably did when they drew on rocks in the middle of their dark caves.


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