– Reese Erlich is a freelance foreign correspondent who covered the Iranian elections and is author of The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis (Polipoint Press) The views expressed are his own. —
Iran is not undergoing a Twitter Revolution. The term simultaneously mischaracterizes and trivializes the important mass movement developing in Iran.
Here’s how it all began. The Iranian government prohibited foreign reporters from traveling outside Tehran without special permission, and later confined them to their hotel rooms and offices. CNN and other cable networks were particularly desperate to find ways to show the large demonstrations and government repression. So they turned to Internet sites such as Facebook and Twitter in a frantic effort to get information. Since reporters were getting most of their information from Tweets and You Tube video clips, the notion of a “Twitter Revolution” was born.
We reporters love a catch phrase and, Twitter being all a flutter in the west, it seemed to fit. It’s a catchy phrase but highly misleading.
First of all the vast majority of Iranians have no access to Twitter. While reporting in Tehran, I personally didn’t encounter anyone who used it regularly. A relatively small number of young, economically well off Iranians do use Twitter. A larger number have access to the Internet. However, in the beginning, most demonstrations were organized through word of mouth, mobile phone calls and text messaging.