Sunday, July 5, 2009

#iranelection as spam

I had a thoughtful discussion on twitter with @AndrewBWatt about using the #iranelection hashtag on twitter. He told me that when I use that tag it was like spam in that it was filling up space that was being used by real Iranians to communicate. I had never thought about it from that angle before. I had looked at the tag as a way to continually bring attention to the struggle of the protesters for a more democratic government. He also mentioned that I could be creating noise so that Iranians who were communicating life-saving information about what was going on at the ground level would not be able to find it.

I considered his comments very seriously as he brings up important points, but as I have watched the #iranelection posts on twitter I do not believe it is being used by Iranians to communicate tactical moves of the authorities. Rather I think the primary use of twitter (and blogs, Youtube, Flickr, ect.) is to broadcast to the world what is happening in their country, begging for our support. Therefore when I "advertise" a blog post about the importance of the events in Iran or re-tweet links of events going on there, I am adding to the discussion. I believe that my #iranelection tweets are "signal" of the most important kind rather than "noise."

The most important evidence of my view is how many Iranian twitter users request re-tweets of their information to get their message out. This is also the reason that they hold up signs in English as well as Farsi.

Lastly some twitter users in the USA are using the #iranelection hashtag as "noise" by randomly sticking it in tweets that have nothing to do with Iran just to get people to see their tweets. Although I find this self-promotion loathsome, I still think even this spam has a positive purpose by keeping the hashtag high on twitter's top trends list. Just keeping #iranelection in the top ten serves as a reminder to Westerners that this is an ongoing battle for freedom that will not quickly be resolved.

What do you think?


  1. I agree! Should do the same with #honduras.


  2. I think you're on the right track here.

    It occurred to me that the Twitter hashtag is most useful when a hashtag is first spawned. Then it gets used by the people who are closest to the action, whether physically or topically. It then washes outwards from there to absorb other conversations into its wake, like a stone thrown into a pond. The heavier the subject, the heavier the ripple. Once it sloshes to the edges of the twitterverse, though, it begins to get picked up by spammers and ne'er-do-wells, who water down its usefulness but keep the ripple alive.

    As near as I can tell, most of the original users have moved to other tags or have been silenced, and now it's mostly for talking to the West and spam. Maybe you were right to use it, and I was wrong to decry it. Maybe someday an Iranian revolutionary will thank you directly for contributing, and castigate me for not particpating. Perhaps I'll get in on #honduras

    I think the impulse to help is a good one. I wonder how much effect I really have in the social media world against guns and secret police, though.