In the digital age, marked by radical transparency, all bets are off. Don Tapscott, author of The Naked Corporation said, “You can’t hide anything anymore.” Tapscott, who joined us on a McCuistion segment, about 12 years ago, refers to a core truth of the “see through age.” But even he could not have predicted the point of no return, where the digital economy and social media can perhaps influence governments, election outcomes and civilian reactions.
Transparency in Action
The massive demonstrations in Iran, aimed at reversing election results and getting local and worldwide popular sympathy, were brought to us, live, through social media… On June 12th, Iranian voters went to the polls to select their next President. When the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the next president, instead of his opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who seemed to have had a fairly comfortable lead, tens of thousands of Iranians, women, young people and old, took to the streets in protest. The Iranian government restricted coverage by the news media and networking sites. Yet, the whole world watched the protests and the increasing violence and government retaliation via Twitter and text. Cell phones are ubiquitous in the Middle East. Over 50% of the Iranian population is under 30 years of age. They are savvy in communicating via social media, and they were determined to have their voices heard, which led to a perfect storm. For the first time ever, in a situation like this, civilians from the outside may be affecting the political outcomes inside a country that restricts its citizens freedoms. The whole world watched and commented, as the ‘news’ was broadcasted by protesters and the major news media: CCN, Fox, CSpan and others. Each in turn picked the news up and re-broadcasted what they saw, heard and got.
When tuning into the news, one could hear a commentator say- ‘wait I just got a text,’ followed by an announcement: ‘Breaking news from a civilian in Iran…’ Citizen journalists in the street, active participants in the protests and observers used Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube to get word out, or organize and support the street protests. Social media was used to actively tell the story and show the chaos and brutality, and sometimes to offer deliberate ,confounding mis-information. Regardless, the social media outlets gave voice to a very different story than the one the Islamic Republic of Iran wanted told. Twitter became the most reliable source of communication inside and outside the country. Internet giant, Google, wasted no time. It started translations in Persian, which could and should dramatically help spread information. Facebook was first with the results of the election, and may in fact be a big reason behind Mousavi’s “successful” campaign. His page not only attracted huge numbers of fans, but it organized and announced street protests, and warned against police activities. Facebook was first with news of Mousavi’s house arrest.
In the new world of radical transparency, journalism as we know it may be a thing of the past. David Sifrey, founder and CEO of Technorati says,” People trust The New York Times and The Washington Post, but there are a huge number of people who are going outside the bounds of traditional media to these new media forms to get their information, and more importantly to participate in the discussions around news and topics. PBS, one of our most respected sources, as early as September of ’08, sent a message that engaged dialogue with their member stations titled: Why Bother To Use Social Media? They posed the following:
- Audience behaviors are changing rapidly and audiences increasingly expect a participatory media experience.
- Handled properly, social media can enhance traditional broadcasting with high quality content no station or producer can create.
- Social media can foster public dialogue.
- Social media can build powerful links between people, stations productions and content.
In the digital age and beyond, the Internet as an active way to communicate is here to stay. We can’t stop the avenues it opens into the interior of a landscape. The Iranian protests may well be known in the future as the “Twitter Revolution”. And a new door to the future of information may well have become mainstream.
We welcome your opinions. How has the digital age affected you? How are you using social media and how has it changed your business or interactions with others?
Thanks for joining us…
Niki Nicastro McCuistion
Executive Producer/ Producer