“However things turn out in Iran, this will probably be forever known as the Twitter Revolution,” Kevin Drum noted yesterday. “It’s too easy to call the weekend’s activities the first revolution that was Twittered,” Marc Ambinder declared, “but when histories of the Iranian election are written, Twitter will doubtless be cast as a protagonal technology that enabled the powerless to survive a brutal crackdown and information blackout by the ruling authorities.” TechPresident’s Nancy Scola hinted at the implications of Ambinder’s predictions: “It’s looking possible we’ll look back at the last days’ events Iran and see the start of Web 3.0—on-the-ground historic change through social media,” she wrote. “Labeling such seemingly spontaneous antigovernment demonstrations a “Twitter Revolution” has already become something of a cliché,” Brad Stone and Noam Cohen scoffed in today’s New York Times. (This was after Andrew Sullivan had titled one of yesterday’s blog posts, provocatively and apparently unironically, “The End of the MSM?”)
Such pronouncements—The Twitter Revolution! The End of the Media as We Know It!—could prove true: Twitter’s role in the election aftermath in Iran may well signal a shift in the power of the people to transform, like Rumplestiltskin with his strands of gold, emotion into action, and collective unrest into broad political change.
Or…not. We simply don’t know. We are, to repeat the obvious, still very much in the midst of the events in Iran—from the perspective of history, at any rate. Epic summations are really only viable when they’re retrospective in nature. It’s too soon to make definitive pronouncements about the media situation in Iran, particularly when the pronouncements we make skew toward the momentous. The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.
And that’s especially true when it comes to Twitter. The ever-more-ubiquitous platform lends itself particularly well, it seems, to the whole correlation/causation fallacy: Iranians are Twittering, and Iranians are protesting—it doesn’t follow, though, that the one caused (or even enabled) the other. And yet the many pronouncements about the weekend’s “Twitter Revolution” suggest just that: they assign to Twitter, and to the people who’ve been using it, a kind of epic agency.