In the last days there has been an explosion of Tweets out of Iran, and a resulting boom in the number of stories covering it. There are now nearly 5000 in a Google News search ranging from the Atlantic, to the Christian Science Monitor to Wired. Everyone is touting Twitter and debating the end of the mainstream media.
Most of the focus has been on the tool, and for sure Twitter is amazing. Twitter makes it so simple to post updates about what is happening around you that anyone can do it. That has generated the volume coming in and as enough voices tell similar stories, patterns have emerged that cannot be denied, which is why everyone from CNN to FoxNews has become more engaged.
Beyond the tool though, lost in that debate is a strong analysis of the motivation behind its use. To the extent it has been covered, people have talked about where CNN failed. However, it is not only that mainstream media has shortcomings, which it does. Rather, it is that Twittter is now able to challenge mainstream media for credible reporting. This is historic. If we are going to understand the potential for what is happening with Twitter in Iran, we need to look closely at this.
First, there is the quality of the content. People watch mainstream media to get information and because that information has credibility. However, if they are more likely to get good content from alternative outlets that is better than the mainstream media, they will gravitate towards it. How do we assess quality? One way is clearly presentation, and CNN beats Twitter there hands down. However, Twitter crushes CNN on authenticity. And, as we have learned over the last few years, authentic voices rule the internet.
Second, there is the human connection. The success of mainstream media is driven by our mutual agreement as viewers that the source is credible. Note Al-Jazeeras failure in the USA as an example. What Twitter and Facebook and the others are doing by connecting people is generating credibility by connecting thousands one at a time, rather than all at once with a click. Those connections are happening at lightening speed. If thousands of people are following posts by an activist in Iran, that lends credibility to the source by our mutual agreement to listen to him/her. This is real alternative media but coming to you with a shared sense of agreement that blurs the line between it and a “mainstream” product.
When you combine good content, with ease of use and the power of human interaction, what you get is the reporting out of Iran on Twitter. It’s a world where those doing the reporting are generating their own credibility in real time and that credibility is then fueling more activism. It’s a brave new world. Like any new world there will be risks and challenges, not the least of which is the potential for this kind of reporting to develop a mob mentality. But that is for another piece. For now, I am watching this and am amazed.