Social Media and Informing Society

So the Internet is awash in green right now as thousands (dare we say millions?) show their support for.. . something.. in Iran.  Thanks to the development of micro-blogging networks like Twitter and tumblr, words from and about Iran continue to make their way from the middle east to the west.  And no matter how uninformed some of those words are and how uninformed we the audience may be on the subject, we’re still colouring our icons and pictures and avatars green to be part of this movement.

Not many people in the west fully understand what the movement is about, myself included.  But despite this ignorance, many people in the west are now showing off hues often reserved for St Patrick’s Day.  A close friend of mine just moments ago chided me for the doing the same, especially because this show of support doesn’t adequately reveal my knowledge (or ignorance) on the subject.  I admit it: I’m a fairly intelligent person,but I don’t know much about what’s going on in Tehran. Yet, I’m still showing green in my icons.  I do know that all Iranian presidential candidates had to be vetted by the Guardian Council and therefore even the moderates had to at least deign support for the theocracy’s state apparati – this should make us critically question the protests and the movement’s ends to a certain degree, let alone our green hues.  But on the other hand, if it were not for Twitter, and if it were not for the colour green, would so many people in the west have even thought twice about the recent Iranian election and crackdowns in Tehran?

I don’t like asking questions like that, because they sometimes presume that the lowest common denominator is the best way to appeal to the senses.  Twitter, for sure, is not a news agency by any sense of the imagination.  And a million people wearing a virtual green in June is hardly reason for anyone else to join in – this is not a popularity contest or a fad, especially when a toxic mix of politics, values, and faith has stirred into violence.   All the same, what we’re seeing with Twitter right now is an opportunity for people to start listening and talking about the 2009 Iranian elections.  Yes, if Mir-Hossein Mousavi had won the election, he would still have become Iran’s president under a theocratic Guardian Council.  But if some one on our friends lists has painted their profile picture green, then we have been afforded an opportunity to ask if they fully understand what is going on in the state if and they know who the colour green represents and what political system that colour green’s candidate operates in.  And then, we should ask ourselves the same questions.  This is, in short, a chance for an uninformed society to act and become informed.

Face it –  we in the west, especially anyone who grew up in after the late 80s, have only a vague idea of the history and current nature of Iranian politics and culture – both its religious and secular sides.  How many of us actually gave serious thought about what’s going down in Tehran before our friends starting showing green? The fact that all candidates had to at least deign support for the Guardian Council is important.  But what matters just as much for us in the west is that although we’ve realized we don’t know enough, we’ve also been given an opportunity to learn more.  Let’s run with it.