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Iran's revolution will not be televised, but could be tweeted

For better or worse, a medium is just a medium

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Comment Iran is teetering on the brink of a revolution today, thanks to the web in general and Twitter in particular. At least that's the narrative shooting around the Web 2.0-sphere right now.

During the recent election campaign, the wisdom goes, opponents of the hardline Ahmadinejad regime used Twitter, Facebook and blogs to push their message and build up a head of steam that would blow the lid of years of repression. Ahmadinejad would be ousted, democratically, ushering in a new moderate, less insular government led by Hossein Mousavi.

Things didn't quite go as planned. The Ahmadinejad camp officially took 63 per cent of the vote - in a count considered suspiciously quick. Their first act was to clamp down on communications in the country, including the internet and mobile phones, as well as radio and TV broadcasts. The likes of the BBC were left relying on satellite phones to report out of the country. But Twitter endured, enabling ordinary Iranians to bypass government censorship.

Reform-minded Iranians, incensed at what they see as the government's stealing of the election, took to Twitter et al to claim that Mousavi had in fact beaten Ahamdinejad by over three to one, and to encourage their compatriots to take to the streets. People certainly took to the streets, where there were vicious clashes on Sunday.

A massive demonstration yesterday ended in bloodshed, with pro-government militia opening fire and killing at least seven protesters. Pictures and video of the demo and its aftermath quickly appeared on photo sharing sites and YouTube. Shortly after, the religious authorities - the ultimate power in the country - announced a partial recount of the vote.

On the other side of the world, Twitter, conscious of its new role as an enabler of revolution, declared it would postpone scheduled maintenance, so that Iranians could continue to avail themselves of the service.

Which all makes for a ringing endorsement of Web 2.0, apparently.

So is it churlish to point out that it's only 30 years since a previous Iranian regime was toppled by an upstart cleric, whose views were propagated underground, using nothing so techie as C90 cassette tapes?

Or to remember that for better or worse, there were revolutions in China and Russia in the last Century, where dissent was spread using nothing more than ink and paper, or just the human voice. Or that in the 1990s, the Rwanda genocide was fuelled by radio broadcasts.

So, even as the non-Iranian Twitterati continue to pat themselves on the back, it's worth remembering that a medium is just that, and not a message. ®

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