Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New New Media vs. the Mullahs in Iran

Bob Brill on KNX Radio out of Los Angeles called me this morning for my thoughts about the banning of international media in Iran. Here is an expanded version of the gist of what I told him in our interview:

The banned media are traditional, old-time broadcast and print media. They are still an important source of information in our world, and their muzzling by the mullahs in Iran is nothing to cheer about, but this action will do little to stop the flow of news out of Iran.

And this is because we now live in the age of YouTube and Twitter - or, what I call the new new media. Unlike CNN and The New York Times on the Web, these newer media allow anyone and everyone to become a reporter, and are impossible to totally shut down or even effectively control.

New media have always been a thorn in the side of totalitarian governments. The White Rose used photocopying to alert Germans to the lies of the Third Reich, and samizdat video undermined the Soviet Union from the inside out in the 1980s. Word got out on the early Internet about Tiananmen Square in 1989, and though the Chinese government in the end crushed that democratic uprising, the people of Iran today have a lot more new media at their disposal. Hundreds of YouTube videos are coming out of Iran and Twitter has been buzzing with at least that many Tweets per hour about the crackdown on democracy in that country.

But are all of these self-produced reports, sent to the world without editors or vetting, truthful? Of course not. But the same open process that brings this information also makes identification of false reports and unsubstantiated rumors easy.

The Iranian government can do what it can to shut down sites and block Internet access in Iran. But the capacity of most cell phones to record and upload videos, and just about any cell phone to Tweet, makes this a brand new ballgame for democracy.

The point of a gun is still hard to disobey or work around, but the informational means to do so have never been more accessible and powerful.
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