Twitpocalypse Not?

Iran puts Twitter back in the spotlight.

Boy, I sure picked a dumb time to write about Twitter fading away.

Even as I was posting my piece Monday morning about the Twitpocalypse, the Twitter Rapture, and how Twitter was becoming less relevant, Iranians were taking to the streets to protest their country’s disputed election results. Forces allied with the government have reportedly been shooting and beating the protesters, and several have already died. The government has also cracked down on journalists, leaving the Internet and smart phones — and Twitter — as some of the only ways eyewitnesses can show the world what’s going on. Reports indicate some of the Iranians are also using Twitter to coordinate their protests.

Meanwhile, back here in the U.S., the Twitterati have been coloring their avatars green in support of Iranian presidential challenger Mir Hossein Moussavi. Many joined in an online petition demanding that Twitter delay a planned shutdown for maintenance so that the Iranian protesters’ communications wouldn’t be cut off. Reportedly, the U.S. State Department made a similar request.

Some of Twitter’s biggest proponents are crowing that this proves Twitter’s essentialness. And indeed, we’ve seen Twitter’s usefulness before in communicating eyewitnesses’ information from similarly dangerous and chaotic scenes, like the aftermath of the Mumbai bombing.

Others are more skeptical about Twitter’s role in Iran. Henry Farrell, writing on his blog The Monkey Cage, notes that Western accounts of similar protests or uprisings have tended to overemphasize the role that technologies like Twitter have played. Blogger Matthew Yglesias chimed in, pointing out that while Twitter may have facilitated the protests, it may be a bit much to credit Twitter for allowing the protests to happen at all.

I’m not entirely convinced this will change Twitter’s long-term relevance to American users — but I also think that’s beside the point right now.

I respect that Twitterers are turning themselves green in solidarity with the protesters, but that’s entirely different from the conviction shown by the protesters themselves, who are literally risking their lives to stand up for what they believe. The future of Twitter is far less important than the future of a national government, especially one with a spotty human rights record, a lust for nuclear technology, and a professed hatred for certain other nations.

We can debate Twitter’s relevance another day. For now, we need to keep watching the events in Iran and stay focused on the risks and sacrifices of the protesters.

Article © 2009 by Michael Duck