Recent events in Iran show that the Internet is a form of media which can be used to support communication in democratic processes. However, the Internet is also a place where anonymous people can express discriminating opinions. At the end of the day, ICTs are the tools people make of them.
Jens Jessen claims in ZeitOnline that the Internet has been idealised by people who want to change democratic processes by including all users who want to participate. However, the Internet is a form of media that can also be used by undemocratic states to promote their ideologies. Some Internet services cooperate with dictatorships for controlling flow of information. Consequently, the Internet is not democratic by definition; it can become a place supporting democratic movements, but anonymous discussions may also have certain side effects. When all people participate, the quality of political discourse might actually worsen, as facts and opinions tend to merge in the online discussion panels. Quality is measured by hits and not by content, says Jessen. (zeit.de) Trent Reznor, frontman of NineInchNails, partly shares Jessen’s point of view, “Anyway, we’re in a world where the mainstream social networks want any and all people to boost user numbers for the big selloff and are not concerned with the quality of experience.” (formu.nin.com)
The collective intelligence has already been questioned and criticised. (The Cult of the Amateur; Do eParticipation and Transparency really lead to better democracy?) A positive example of Crowdsourcing has been implemented by The Guardian as readers are asked to examine documents about the expenses of British MPs. (Investigate your MP’s expenses) Also, the ongoing events in Iran show the impact of the Internet community. Even though the political discourse might or might not be reach the desired quality, at least it’s happening. The Internet and other ICTs give people, who have never been part of economic and educational elite, the chance to participate in political discourse, making ICTs the base of democratic participation. (democratisation of technology)
Internet supports democratic movements in Iran
After the government of Iran took control over most of the media, citizens who didn’t share the official opinions found refuge online. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have already been of importance in political campaigns in Iran as „[…] Moussavi campaign managers organized supporters, planned gatherings and garnered support through Facebook pages dedicated to the Reformist candidate.“ (edition.cnn.com)
Now, after the elections, the Iranian opposition and international journalism rely on these platforms. “If you want to get the latest on the opposition protests in Iran, you should be reading blogs, watching YouTube or following Twitter updates from Tehran, minute-by-minute.” (thenation.com) The lack of information from established news networks is of course also criticised in social media. “The New York Times’ Brian Stelter, a dedicated tweeter himself, even reported that folks weren’t only using Twitter to report about Iran, but to complain about CNN’s failure to report (using, of course, the Twitter hashtag #CNNfail)” (savetheinternet.com)
The operators of social media are aware of their responsibility in Iran. Scott Rubin, spokesman of YouTube, compares the events in Iran to the Velvet Revolution, “I’m likening this to the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic where all these barriers are placed in front of people and they keep marching. Only this time it’s happening online and it’s happening on YouTube. […] By using YouTube, Iranian citizens are having their voices heard, their faces seen and their story gets told around the world without filtering. The real story of this election is being told by the citizen.” (BBCnews)
Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, states that communication-platform remains independent and supports democratic participation. „The State Dept does not have access to our decision making process. […] When we worked with our network provider to reschedule this planned maintenance, we did so because events in Iran were tied directly to the growing significance of Twitter as an important communication and information network. […]We decided together to move the date. It made sense for Twitter and for NTT America to keep services active during this highly visible global event.” (BBCnews) To show their support for the opposition of Iran, users of Twitter colour their avatars green. (helpiranelection.com) A single click can make a political statement.