I completed final proofing of Twitterville on June 12. Many authors, myself included, love to conclude a book with a demonstration of some form of Big Picture vision. Mine was a final chapter that explained how on Twitter, we can easily form global neighborhoods-virtual spaces where people all over the world can come together to share information, ideas and passion on any particular subject.
Twitterville concludes that these global neighborhoods lets people in different places and of different cultures talk directly with intermediation of governments, media or employers. When we do that we start to notice our similarities and can find them more compelling than our differences.
It was supposed to be a big thought, a vision of instances that would happen far into the future. But on June 12, in Iran, a country that I knew little about an election was held. By the next morning results of 30 million ballots had been allegedly hand-counted and the incumbent anti-West, pro-terrorist regime declared itself a winner by an overwhelming majority.
The speed and the count defied credibility. Details revealing some districts had counted more than 100 percent of the registered voters led to questions. Unopened ballot boxes photographed in libraries led to expressions of disbelief, spurred by protests from defeated candidates, respected clerics and reasonable people everywhere.
Those who had hoped to see change; who believed they lived in a country that provided them a choice at the ballot box felt they had been robbed of that choice and they took to the streets do demonstrate their disbelief, which soon erupted into outrage.
For the most part, traditional press was hamstrung. It was not that they were shirking responsibilities, but years of budget cuts had thinned the ranks of stringers, correspondents and reporters for mainstream media. Plus the Iran government plays games with journalist visas. Worse when government "requests" are ignored, the leaders of this republic responded by detentions, expulsions, and occasional arrests and perhaps charges of disruption or spying both of which can result in being slowly hanged to death [they raise you by the neck, so that you strangle, rather than just drop you through a trap door so your neck quickly breaks].
This onerous and successful suppression of traditional journalism has worked in many countries all over the world. When certain governments kick the press off a story, it almost always means ugly things are going to happen; unarmed people will suffer, voices for change will be silenced.
But this time there was some new force coming into play; something that had not occurred before. The voices of people on the streets could now be heard on Twitter, where people who supported them could amplify what they had to say by retweeting. Twitter became the voice of the street. It also worked in tandem with YouTube and Flickr to serve as the eyes.
These video not only showed us smoking guns of evidence, it showed us the victim of these smoking guns, such as the sniper killing of Neda Agha-Soltan a 26-year-old student. Twitter filled the void created by the traditional media's inability to report the news and it did it in a grassroots, ad hoc manner that made many news organizations wince.
First off was the issue of sourcing. It was dangerous to Iranian tweeters to identify them. On Twitter, we just agreed to not post names. Many of us also changed our own addresses o appear as if we were in Iran, and we encouraged authentic Iranian Tweeters to say they were from elsewhere--to confuse government investigators.
For the press, who is disciplined to at least attempt some level of objectivity this was a problem. While as a Tweeter I get to say what I think, a professional journalist is trained not to do that, but to attribute a quote to a credible source.
But second, was the issue of factual credibility. As had been the case in events like Mumbai, the Schezuan Earthquake and Gaza-Israel, there was a huge amount of misinformation being circulated. It was hard to verify and during the days when the story was moving rapidly from streets, to rooftops; from embassies to hospitals and was a definite challenge to determine what was actually happening and to do so with reasonable speed.
For me the Internet posted photos and videos were the verifiers. For the press, posting such content without knowing who took these visual renderings was a challenge.
But the press had been locked out for the most part. They could go talk to some Iranian now sequestered in the safety of a Western university or they could trust the story emanating from the streets of Iran.
After a few days of confusion, much of the press turned to Twitter and social media to report the story. They added some professional vetting that discounted many of the early stories that were seemingly manufactured to overstate an otherwise credible case.
Twitter came first. It told a story that the word is likely to have otherwise overlooked. Tweeters were the feet on the street who wrote the story. They were the videographer and photographers and these citizen journalist did so at great personal risk--as have professional journalist been doing for centuries.
The longer, deeper, more balanced and accurate stories were written by the great traditional institutions such as The New York and Los Angeles Times.
But something new has been happening ever since the China Quake when much of the Western press first learned about a tremor that killed 50,000 people because a Dutch teenager named Casper Oppenhuis de Jong was an eyewitness with WiFi access. The press went with the unknown guy whose feet happened to be on the street and at that point, the strands between citizen and traditional journalism began to intertwine.
This evolved into a full-fledged braiding of traditional and social media by the time Janis Krums used an iPhone to photograph US Air 1549 landing near his passenger ferry on the Hudson River.
By the time Iran erupted, it was becoming clear that to get some stories there needs to be a convergence of of these two reporting systems. In Iran, traditional media started to bend some of its rigid and perhaps outdated rules, simply because they would not have participated in a story that held great interest to many people all over the world.
There are many things that can be said about Iran. There are also many disparaging comments any of us can make bout social and traditional media. But it is becoming clear that we are moving in a direction in which journalism braids, and in so doing people who care can find out more news about events in more places--large and small than has previously been the case.
For a very long time, media institutions have looked disdainfully, even contemptuously on social media coverage. There are more of those days behind us, it seems to me, than there are in front of us.
Events of the last years have varied greatly. But the strands of braided journalism are growing stronger and broader with each passing event.