The story about new media being the only source of news from Iran is unfolding for everyone to see, but what is interesting is these new media outlets and those who use new media to report news in the traditional sense are creating and breaking rules at the same time.
CNN which regularly reports news from its viewers in the form of tweets and their iReport changed two rules. The first is they are blocking out names of the contributors in Iran so they don’t face repercussions from the Iranian government. Second, they are airing “unverified” accounts from the ground. this means they aren’t doing their journalistic due diligence, but they are getting the stories out. In this case verifying sources can be difficult, but does verification matter that someone is suffering a gunshot wound? In other words, we know the protest is violent and people are being shot. As long as the news outlet doesn’t assign blame for who shot the victim, CNN can say their iReporter shots were fired in Tehran.
Twitter was supposed to undergo a regularly scheduled maintenance to accommodate the companies growth. However, pleas from the online community caused twitter to keep operations going so the protesters voices wouldn’t be stopped for the hour long upgrade. Twitter, of course was willing to comply and being the lifeline of information, Twitter acted in the name of openness and kept the communication going.
Here’s the rub, not only was the outcry to keep Twitter up from inside Iran and the reformists around the globe, it was also a request of the US State Department. Now Twitter is defending itself from accusations that its a shill for the US Government. What would happen if the State Department or the Department of Defense asks Twitter to go down in Iraq or if the FBI asks Twitter to go down in a town so they can make a raid? Conspiracy theorists will go nuts but Twitter’s blog is saying they are their own boss.
It’s humbling to think that our two-year old company could be playing such a globally meaningful role that state officials find their way toward highlighting our significance. However, it’s important to note that the State Department does not have access to our decision making process. Nevertheless, we can both agree that the open exchange of information is a positive force in the world.
YouTube is defending and explaining its TOS. Twitter is simple text and paths to links. But video is a different animal. The video camera doesn’t blink and video has changed the world. Obviously images captured on video from the streets of Tehran and posted online are violent. But YouTube bans videos that are violent, right? YouTube has taken to its blog to explain that this violence is ok. Was it? Are their videos of Rodney King on YouTube? Yes. And here is YouTube’s explanation which specifically mention events occurring in Iran:
Unless a video clearly violates our Community Guidelines, we will not take it down. In general, we do not allow graphic or gratuitous violence on YouTube. However, we make exceptions for videos that have educational, documentary, or scientific value. The limitations being placed on mainstream media reporting from within Iran make it even more important that citizens in Iran be able to use YouTube to capture their experiences for the world to see. Given the critical role these videos are playing in reporting this story to the world, we are doing our best to leave as many of them up as we can. YouTube is, at its core, a global forum for free expression.
Modern protests, coups, riots, civil disobedience and social gatherings have been using new technologies as soon as they’ve come out. Protests which toppled a government in the Philippines used text messaging so did flashmobs to encourage scores of people to go to a New York Best Busy wearing blue polo shirts at a specific time.
The difference between past social gatherings and the recent Iranian uprising is the information is coming from more centralized locations. The benefits of centralization are people know where to find the information and take action about it. And there are rules for reporting and responding.
The downside is the information is now becoming centralized and the authorities know where to find the information and they know how to break the rules that are being established.
I can only imagine that China is watching.