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#iranelection – The first battle fought on Twitter

2009 June 25

#iranelection is a Twitter “hashtag”.  A hashtag is a method of ‘tagging’ a topic or idea and is commonly used on Twitter to make it easy for others to follow all Twitter posts on that certain topic.  A hashtag has to be one word (or combination of words with no space) preceded by the hash sign (#).

#iranelection represents a thread of hundreds of thousands of Twitter posts, many from within Iran, all on the topic of the elections in Iran, and the protests and government crackdown that followed.  You can follow this thread on Twitter, right now, even if you don’t have a account.  Just click  Then, in the search box enter #iranelection.

The Iranian government has placed a block on most incoming and outgoing Internet connectivity in the country.  But news is still being broadcast, not by traditional media, but by citizen journalists – equipped with a digital camera, or a cell phone, and some kind of unauthorized Internet connectivity.

Flash back to the late 1960’s and the war in Vietnam; the first war fought on Television.  Images and stories about the war and the horrors of war were broadcast night after night on network television.  For the first time, the world could see real battles unfold; real heroes in action along with real blood, real pain, real fear and real tragedy.

You can find an informative article about that “Living Room” war, and the ramifications Television had on the US Vietnam policy  on The Museum of Broadcast Communications website.

While filmed news reels during World War II were upbeat and highly energizing, these nightly news reports (which were typically about five days old since film had to be flown to New York for processing and editing) showed what it was really like to be in a war zone.  In a 1968 commentary, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite opined that there was no way the United States could win the Vietnam war.  It was that commentary that caused President Lyndon Johnson to not seek re-election AND find a way to end the war.  Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author David Halberstam wrote that “it was the first time in American history a war had been declared over by an anchorman”.

The US Government learned a lot from Vietnam War news coverage and its effect on the outcome of that war.  So, in subsequent skirmishes (we haven’t really been involved in a “declared” war since WWII), the United States Government has severely limited journalist’s access to war zones.

In fact, the Bush Administration went so far as to cite family privacy concerns when they blocked media from  covering the return of those soldiers who lost their lives in battle.  Yet a digital photo of far too many flag draped coffins lined up neatly on a cargo plane headed back to the United States was leaked, and was printed in the Seattle Times; then forwarded electronically across the globe; proving that in today’s world of digital technology it’s impossible to contain all information, and once information does get out, it is not only widely distributed, it stays out.

As a marketer I can totally understand why the government wants to control the dissemination of information.  Just as companies carefully craft messages and control their distribution to control “brand image”, governments use those same communication tools to control their brand image.  Call it what you will; advertising, public relations, or propaganda.

Marketers and governments used to have the luxury of controlling the message to protect the sanctity of their brands.  Today, that control is in the hands of the consumer, or in the case of the current uprising in Iran, citizens at odds with the government.  The news is filtering through all channels of social media.  On Twitter, blogs and on media sharing sites like Flicker and You Tube.

This Video on You Tube captured the  shooting death of Iranian student Neda Soltan on a Tehran street.  It was recorded live on a cell phone, then posted on the Internet and has been seen by millions of people across the globe on-line and on major broadcast networks. Millions more will see the video in the years to come.  Content aggregators are pulling together information from sources across the globe, including The Lede, The New York Times news blog, and these live blog updates compiled by the Huffington Post.   News is no longer relegated to a certain time and a certain place.  It is now delivered 24/7 from everywhere, about everything by just about anyone with an Internet connection.

In her June 23 blog post titled Twittering the Iran election Heather Doughtery, director of research at Hitwise, provides statistics showing  that in the week ending June 20th, Twitter  received the highest share of clicks from queries for ‘iran election’, even ranking above Google News.

Technology has launched us from the Newsreels of WWII, to nightly broadcasts of the Vietnam War.  It allowed us to watch live footage of men on the moon, and live reports from places far away.  Until now, these technologies have been controlled by mass media outlets.  The web 2.0 technologies that  fueled the social media phenomenon have created new avenues for disseminating real life in real time, even when governments and companies try to withhold that information.

The battle in Iran is unfolding before our eyes.  And for the first time in history it’s unfolding in real time, reported by real people in words, pictures and in video.  But Iran isn’t alone at the top of the  Twitterverse.  As I write this blog post the other top Twitter Trends include, #Cleveland, #Cavs, #Lebron, #Transformers2, and #goodnight.

Proof that people are talking on-line about anything, and everything.  Even about your brand.  Are you joining in the discussion?

News report posted on June 17, 2009 by ITN.  Protesters in Iran tell the world about their fight for democracy as restrictions on mobile phones and the Internet are defied on Twitter.


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