Indeed, the most important role Twitter played in this election was publicizing other means of getting information: I’d have never been able to follow Pajhwok News without following their Twitter stream, and Pajhwok did incredible work sending their reporters out to cover as much of the election as possible. Brian Conley, the co-founder of Small World News and Alive in Afghanistan, which aggregates and geo-locates locally generated news about Afghanistan (partnered with Pajhwok), said Twitter helped both AiA and Pahjwok get some much-needed attention. “It has been invaluable,” he said, “at spreading word of the organization and our tools and promoting our work around the world.”
That it did—Rachel Maddow mentioned the service on her program, and the avalanche of new users temporarily crashed AiA’s server (Maddow apologized—where else?—on Twitter). That’s ultimately the value of Twitter, at least this time around, according to Joshua Mull, a contributing editor to Small World News. “Those people who did all that retweeting,” he explained, “they have people you don’t follow, and who maybe don’t follow the original three.”
In that sense, Twitter still has enormous potential for spreading the word about events. But it’s no replacement for good old-fashioned reporting. Both The New York Times and the Guardian had dedicated pages and blogs to the vote. And they were putting out their own original reporting on what was happening.
As for the election itself, it’s far too early to call it a success or not. The votes won’t be counted for several more weeks, and it will probably be far after that before we’ll know whether these technologies had any meaningful effect. The big test will probably come if Hamid Karzai fails to secure 50 percent of the vote, forcing a second-round runoff. Karzai’s main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, is already alleging voter fraud, laying the groundwork, potentially, for another democracy crisis ripe for coverage on Twitter. Whether Twitter plays any role in future unrest in Afghanistan depends entirely on Afghans themselves—if they start using it.