The One Big Thing you need to know about this week is the role citizen media and the social Web played in reporting the popular revolt over the Iranian election results.

I won’t give you a play-by-play but I will offer a few thoughts:

Information Wants To Be Free

The first and most obvious thing was that the event dramatically illustrated just how futile government control of communications is. Sure, the Iranian government blocked Web sites but the methods by which you get around those blocks were widely dispersed. And though the government did slow down Internet access and cell phone service to make it harder for the protesters messages to get out to the wider world, in the process they messed with their own communication infrastructure, making it much harder for security forces to suppress the protests.

Citizen Media

Having expelled traditional media from the country, the government opened the floodgates to citizen media. Had they not kicked CNN and the like out of the country, they could have at least had some control over the images the rest of the world saw.

Most people, after all, turn to cable news for breaking news stories. By shutting off that venue, people turned to the Internet and found citizen media galore…and it was all from the point of view of the protesters.

Further, with nothing to report, traditional media had to rely solely on citizen media for information. CNN became the de facto public relations firm for Twitter.

While a great role for traditional journalism in such a situation is the one they played of curating, interpreting and verifying information, watching the coverage I felt a lot of defensiveness in CNN’s reliance on Twitter, Flickr and YouTube.

Jon Stewart, of course, captured that sentiment succinctly:

Nevertheless, CNN’s embrace of citizen media well before the event through their iReport program put the network in perhaps the best position among traditional media to take advantage of the citizen journalism:

Galvanizing A Movement

Two years ago, I questioned whether iconography could survive the Internet. This event has proved me wrong.

I watched the infamous video of the young Iranian woman Neda dying after being shot by state police. I wouldn’t have watched it had I known what I was going to see, but I did on my computer screen I saw a beautiful young Iranian woman’s eyes go lifeless as a result of government violence.

I knew immediately that the emotional power of that image could turn a dead student into an icon for a cause. And it did.

I have to assume that the video of Neda’s death along with the video of the government’s violence against its people helped to fuel and expand the protests beyond the committed “movement” types to ordinary Iranians appalled at what their government was doing.

Crowdsourcing The Protest

I think the most profound aspect of the event, however, is the role the social Web played as a collaborative tool.

From Twitter delaying a scheduled maintenance shutdown in order to aid communication amongst protesters to Google implementing Persian translation, organizations and people helped turn the Web into a tool to empower the protesters in Iran.

Suggestions to help the protesters were posted to Twitter:

  • Encourage everyone on Twitter to change their location on their Twitter profiles to Terahn to foil government attempts at identifying protesters
  • Tell protesters to rip down street signs to disorient state police
  • Request for Denial of Service attacks to crash Iranian police-run sites designed to identify protesters
  • Even point to browser add-ons that make Denial of Service attacks more efficient
  • Tell people to Photoshop the faces of state police onto the bodies of protesters to confuse and/or uneccessarily occupy security forces’ time

The use of the social Web by people world wide to aid and abet Iranians fighting for their rights was breathtaking and points to the future of the evolution of the Web.

If Web 1.0 was about the presentation of information and one-to-many and one-to-one communication; and Web 2.0 was about connecting people and empowering conversations; the next evolution of the Web will be about working together, about collaboration.

Google Wave and other tools are helping to usher this era in but this popular uprising in Iran gave us a brief glimpse of the power of the working Web.

Further reading: