This post was written as part of a research blogging assignment for Stanford’s Networked Rhetorics class. For more about this assignment, click here.
For my research-based class here at Stanford University, I have chosen to study the political impact that Twitter has had on countries ruled by oppressive governments. Though I am certainly pooling from many sources to form my initial impression and to begin to create an argument, I am currently looking specifically at an article titled “Iran: Downside to the ‘Twitter Revolution’” by Evgeny Morozov. Though he seems to be addressing the same basic topic as I, he brings in the novel idea of the American role in this issue, and makes comparisons to similar events that predate the current situation in Venezuela, including Iran, Moldova, and Leipzig.
Morozov makes two very important comparisons – Iran to Moldova and to Leipzig. The Moldovan use of Twitter was much more successful than that of the Iranians because of the pure spontaneity of it. As Morozov points out, the protests in Iran were not at all spontaneous. The campaigns of the various candidates were well established from the beginning. In Moldova, a so-called “flashmob” became a massive rally because of the speed of Twitter. Indeed, we may reference a particularly relevant xkcd comic, in which tweets move faster than waves of an earthquake. Twitter can bring about these spontaneous gatherings, but Morozov argues that in comparison to Moldova, this is not the case in Iran. The other major comparison Morozov makes is to Leipzig in 1989, in which massive sociopolitical change was effected by “…young people, armed with fax machines and an occasional Xerox copier, taking on the brutal dictators – and winning….” Again, we see this trend of new technology enabling people to stand up to the governments they face and sometimes even beat them.
One idea that Morozov uses as a hook but in fact furthers my argument is the American reaction to the use of Twitter, in Iran and in general. A central tenet to my current argument is that Twitter enables those who were previously silenced to be heard. As Morozov points out, so far this only really applies on a primary source basis to those well-off enough to own a device from which to tweet and in many cases also have a working knowledge of English. Regardless, governments with substantial sets of enemies must be very wary of what could be used against them. This has led to a recent development that I am exploring regarding Venezuela. Hugo Chavez, the well-known dictator, has recently become aware of the power of the Internet in enabling opposition forces to his oppressive regime, and has decided to combat these Internet threats with an Internet-based attack, involving “cybersoldiers” and a blog that serves as his “trench on the internet.” The American government, on the other hand, is much less concerned with the Internet as a threat, possibly due to the relatively high level of liberty American citizens have as compared to citizens of Iran or Venezuela. Morozov quotes Hillary Clinton when she said “…that she wouldn’t know ‘a Twitter from a tweeter, but apparently, it’s very important.’” Those involved in the American government and more specifically the Obama Administration had not considered Twitter as a force to consider until they saw it in action in Iran.
A related issue that Morozov addresses is that of American involvement in the “Twitter Revolution” of 2009 in Iran. He points out the seemingly obvious fact that much of what we saw in news coverage and such was written in English. If Twitter was being used solely for internal Iranian purposes, I doubt that they would feel the urge to write their tweets in English. No, many of the tweets and blogs, Morozov states, are actually authored by Americans, who through their zeal to support a cause actually allowed the Iranian government more insight into the opposition cause and in some ways may have helped in the total crushing of the rebellious spirit in Iran, or so Morozov argues. I need to do more outside research to be able to address this issue properly, and to take into account the possibility that even tweets authored by non-Iranians could have had an impact in the situation at the time. From here, perhaps I can make some statement about the way that American involvement may or may not impact Venezuelan affairs.
–Luisa Russell, Stanford University, Class of 2012