The world has been watching events unfold in Iran following the election last week, and – as seems to be the case increasingly around events of global significance – via social media (specifically Twitter), we’ve been able to keep up with the latest info from the street protests and the situation on the ground.
Twitter has become an amplifier of global proportions, turning up the attention on a myriad of distributed facts, opinions, links and updates about any situation – and this is no exception.
But as we follow the situation unfolding on Twitter (and in big media), I just wanted to share this thoughtful article by a former Iraq war and Pentagon correspondent about rumours and the potential for hopeful misinformation, and how Twitter might be stoking or reinforcing them:
None of this is to excuse the behavior of the government after the election results came out. Or to diminish the bravery and courage of the people who are out in the streets in Tehran getting beaten. But what if it’s based on a lie? A Twitter-fueled, mass delusion of a lie? That the one third of people who voted for Mousavi convinced themselves, via a social media echo chamber that selectively picked rumors and amplified them until they appeared true, that they in fact represented two thirds of the country? And then tried to bring down the government based on that delusion? Maybe it’s not the case this time. But doesn’t this entire episode seem to show how such a thing could happen? And then what?
While I’m concerned about the post-election situation in Iran, I’m also cautious about the Twitter effect, partly because of the potential for intentional misinformation being spread via social networks, but also for many of the same reasons that influenced my thinking about Twitter and #AmazonFAIL which I wrote about in a post comparing the virulent, damaging, unrelenting backlash to wildfire and a social media mob.
They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. But a little information, misassumed, miscommunicated and fuelled by internet attention … can also spark a wildfire.
Information which spreads quickly, explosively and loudly isn’t necessarily reliable, accurate or helpful, and we’d do well to remember that before believing, acting on, or passing it on blindly.
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, feel the infectious nature of rumour and the thrill of disseminating third(/fourth/fifth/sixth…)-hand experience, and want to feel part of a global movement, but sometimes doing so may actually cause more harm than good.