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Politics, Life and Journalism in Northumberland County, Ontario

Is Northumberland County ready for Twitter revolution

June 24, 2009

The San Francisco-based Twitter, a popular two-year old micro-blog site, is helping to fuel the Iranian democratic protests with stunning results. It is part of an overall resistance movement using social media against the election results last week after President Mahmoud Ahmakinejad declared victory.

Not since the 1979 Islamic Revolution has an Iranian regime seen such dissidence. Chaos continues in the streets of Tehran, while security forces use tear gas, water canons and violence to break up protests. Increasingly, the encounters escalate with the numbers of people dying on the rise.

Protestors seek a new election after allegations of vote rigging took place in the June 12 election. Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi is leader of reform movement, while Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, continues to threaten bloodshed if the protests don’t stop.

Despite massive efforts to shut down the Internet and all communications, resourceful Iranians are finding unique ways to circumvent the blockages. Pictures are finding their way out of the country via Twitter, while others are giving details of the brutality.

This flow of information, relentlessly delivered by the activists almost immediately after the election results were released, has moved Western leaders into action. President Barack Obama has increased the pressure from the United States fueled by popular support, as Americans become more empathetic towards the plight of the Iranians. The same is true about British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is also taking a strong stand against the violent methods being used by the repressive regime.

Without the news from Twitter, blogs and Facebook, Western media would cutoff. CNN is using many reports, which are then independently verified. Still, the ability of the social networking software to stretch beyond news media to raise public awareness and support is a crucial aspect of what is taking place.

The tools are vital, both inside and outside the country. Many of the protesters are using cell phone text messaging as type of modern phone tree to organize events.

Here at home, approximately 100 people in Northumberland County use Twitter, as listed on the Norhumberlandview.ca’s unofficial list, and the numbers are growing daily. Mainly, Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites are used for entertainment. In fact, there is lots of criticism, as both users and non-users, complain about the inane content of some Twitter posts. Who cares if someone is going to bed? Or, if people are about it eat dinner.

What has taken place in the past week demonstrates how technology makes itself useful through unexpected innovation. As one local member of the Twitterati said recently, she networks with hundreds of women daily. They chit-chat back and forth. There is no obvious point, other than to share information and share themselves. A week does not go by when she does not get a new client for her business from the list. As she told one friend, women get this technology; men don’t. This maybe true or not, still the growing number of businesspeople using Twitter in Northumberland is growing quickly.

Also, the Northumberland United Way is using social networking technology as a big part of its fall campaign as a means of getting news and information out into the community. Chairman Bill Patchett and Executive Director Lynda Kay are leading the charge on Twitter and Facebook. A recent workshop sponsored by the United Way for non-profit organizations interested in social media just took place last week. Thirty-five people showed up with a waiting list of 14.

What the world has witnessed in Iran says something very powerful about the way we communicate and how it is changing. The question is: Are we, in Northumberland, ready for the revolution?

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