Social Media is an unambiguous threat to authoritarian regimes everywhere

During the past 24 hours the Iranian government has attempted to shut down mainstream media, confiscating TV cameras from ABC and other news organizations, in an effort to supress coverage of the aftermath of a disputed Presidential election. Major media has been unable to cover the ongoing demonstrations, street protests and increasingly violent clashes. CNN weekend anchor Don Lemon has been reduced to pulling news from Twitter.

Yes, Twitter is being featured as a primary source in CNN coverage. CNN is also dependent upon their iReporter feature and other social media sources from around the web. Is this the triumph of two-way media over traditional broadcast media? See this post from the BBC for a long list of examples that illustrate how a variety of web sites are providing real-time coverage. For authoritarian governments, it’s like the whack-a-mole game: they cannot close all such sites.

This is a big change. The power to record, upload and broadcast news is now in the hands of the citizenry, and it’s never going back.

20 years ago, the Chinese government supressed broadcast media during the demonstrations on Tiannanmen Square. In China, TV was off the air and the radio stations played military music. All news from Beijing was blacked out. At the time, consumer Internet was non existent, so it was too early for social media. But overseas Chinese used fax machines to send the newspaper coverage to their relatives throughout mainland China. And, via this crude, slow-twitch medium, the Chinese people gradually learned the truth about violent supression in their capital.

20 years ago, a Chinese citizen faced down a column of tanks on their way to crush the protests at Tiannanmen Square

More recently, text messages on cell phones have played an important role in organizing citizens during disputed elections in countries around the world, ranging from Venezuela, Lebanon, Thailand, Ukraine and more.

Today, social media moves in real time, from cell phone cameras and text messaging to Twitter and Facebook. An invisible net of data pervades the whole world, enabling instantaneous awareness of breaking news. It’s like a global nervous system transmitting impulses from every part of the globe. Social media is an unambiguous threat to authoritarian regimes around the world.

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