You can hardly turn on the news these days without seeing Twitter promoted somewhere. Major news networks are using the micro-blogging platform to connect with viewers and get citizen feedback. Whether it’s a major news network or your local affiliate, the past four months have seen a major rise in popularity for this Web 2.0 platform, which is designed to answer the question, “what are you doing now?”
Over a month ago we made the news for a brief remark about Ashton Kutcher’s rise to over 1 million followers (if you’re keeping track, he’s at over 2.3 million, now). While we always say it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the conversations and connections, it certainly says something that one individual can get more followers than a single entity or news network. Twitter has loosened the term citizen journalist in unprecedented ways. Is every individual remarking on the news, or sending out links, a citizen journalist? Many of the major networks, who regularly pull quotes and perspectives from Twitter, seem to think so.
In the military, I’ve still seen some skepticism about how Twitter can be used as a strategic communications tool. It’s just a little too funky, and a little too uncontrolled. We’re used to the Wild Wild West of the social media landscape, but Twitter takes that to new levels. Is it worth sifting through a sea of useless information in order to connect with the segment of people who really care about what you have to say?
The use of Twitter by protestors in Iran, however, is opening people’s eyes. With the absence of journalists to cover the story, Iranian citizens are stepping in. The hashtag (a symbol used to track trending topics in Twitter) #iranelection continues to trend on Twitter, as both Iranians, and supporters from across the globe use Twitter to connect and share information. While there could be doubt as to how widespread the use of Twitter is among the Iranian population, those who are using it know its power and ability to provide instantaneous updates to followers. And because of the rise in media outlets using Twitter, some tweets sent from Iran are aimed directly at news agencies – notifying them of press conferences or events. The rise in free, fairly accurate Internet translation software has opened doors for messages to spread not just across platforms, but across languages.
Is this a Twitter Revolution? Perhaps. I will always look at social networking sites as simply tools, not solutions. If there hadn’t been Twitter, what would the coverage of the Iranian elections have looked like? What information would have bubbled to the surface, and what platforms would have gotten it there? As a public affairs operator and someone who finds knowledge and information at the core of the freedoms we hold so dear, and protect so fiercely in the United States Army, it is powerful to see news and information spreading through the Middle East through the power of social networking. I don’t think the events in Iran signify a Twitter revolution, but I do think that as an American citizen, anytime we see individuals expressing free speech, it is a win for democracy.
The U.S. Army has been using Twitter for awhile, so visit us at www.twitter.com/usarmy. If you’d like to ask me a question or drop me a note, always feel free to do so at www.twitter.com/lindykyzer. Do you think the use of Twitter in Iran signifies a Twitter revolution? How do you feel about this fastest growing social networking platform? Drop us a line in the comments section.