The Role of Technology in Diplomacy
Social networking sites like Facebook and the now popular Twitter have hurriedly and indispensably integrated themselves into the daily lives of millions of users. Not only do these sites connect peers socially, they have emerged as a global stage of what some might call gruesomely beautiful togetherness. Case in point: The Iranian Elections.
The Iranian government cracked down on communication on the infamous Election Day. The regime shut down email and text messaging services, depriving opposition leaders and peaceful protestors of their most effective organizing tools.
When Iranian authorities clamped down on conventional communication and banned Western journalists from covering political demonstrations, sites such as Facebook and Twitter were able to provide media outlets critical information. Resourceful social networking users found ways to evade government snooping by programming their Web browsers to contact a proxy—an Internet server that transmitted their connection through another country. More importantly, these sites afforded individuals a firsthand glimpse into what was transpiring in Iran from the most credible source of all: its people. Links to reports and photos from marches throughout Tehran, both peaceful and gruesome, spread virally into the homes of millions. Activists, students, teenagers—people from all walks of life—shared their disgust for the footage that appeared on their computer screens. Thousands of individuals changed the color of their avatars to green to signify their support for freedom in Iran. Commentators even labeled such spontaneous anti-government demonstrations as the “Twitter Revolution.”
While the White House took a careful, hands-off approach, the U.S. State Department ensured that sites like Twitter stayed up and running for Iranians to use them. The rationale behind this was simple. This was about the Iranian people and giving their voices a chance to be heard.
In fact, social networking sites provided information that was so vital to cover the rapidly developing events in Iran that conventional media such as CNN not only relied on Twitter and Facebook posts but actually based their television news coverage on them.
Media coverage of events in Iran has recently died down. However, it is essential to recognize the empowerment of cyber activism for people living under undemocratic governments.
The beauty behind these social networking sites was and still is their resilience against censorship. Where the Internet was banned, other means to communicate emerged. With the overabundance of outlets to which these posts may appear, censorship seems almost impossible.
Twitter “tweets” and Facebook updates from Iran have echoed throughout the world. Where government officials closed one door, the youth opened another. THIS is what makes social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter so powerful and why they became so crucial after the elections. The revolution may not be televised. But with enough bandwidth, it can be followed on Twitter.
Nicole Farnoush serves on the Board of Directors of 30 Years After. She earned her Master’s Degree in City Planning and Economic Development and a Bachelor of Science in Policy, Planning and Development from USC.