A few hours ago I was on a flight from Kennedy airport in New York to Seattle. CNN was carrying “Breaking News” during an hour or so of that flight about a Continental Airlines flight coming from Europe to Newark airport. During the flight, the captain had died of natural causes and now CNN was covering the “drama” live of whether or not the First Officer who had “commandeered the plane” (in their words) would be able to bring it down safely. Well, duh, he’s got 1500 hours in the 777, but never mind that. Aside from wanting to make a point about the ridiculous lengths today’s cable TV will go to dramatize an on-going incident, this comment is about Twitter. In the middle of their “dramatic” coverage of this ‘breaking news” story, they pulled up a screen with a Twitter search site, and the reporter said “just a few minutes ago, this story was one of the biggest on Twitter, oops, wait, now it is the biggest story on Twitter, it just bumped th Iranian elections off the top spot!”
Well, I may not be quoting exactly, but I just want to catch my breath and think about this for a moment.
There is little question of the role of the Internet, social media sites and Twitter in particular in the Iranian election crisis and our ability to learn in real time what is going on. Twitter has become so significant in this that the State Department (according to this article in Washington Post) asked Twitter to delay a scheduled maintenance window in order to not disrupt the way in which Twitter was impacting the protests as well as enabling all of us to see first hand what is going on there.
What do we call this phenomenon? What is this–the Sixth Estate? China is doing its very darndest and a darn good job at that of grabbing control of the Internet in order to keep the party in control and political protest from spiralling out of control. No doubt the cleric leaders are right now huffing and puffing with their technology gurus and yelling at them–do a China, do a China! But the cat may be out of the bag.
Hey presidents, dictators, party leaders and theocratic clerics–news flash: the citizens are free. Fear Twitter! This is the age of public permission, this is the age of transparency, this is the age of citizen journalism, social networking, instant news and public opinion getting out of your control before you have a chance to dial your attorney. I should have mentioned powerful CEO in that list, because that is where this lesson really needs to resonate.
Lessons from this rambling?
1) the news media now determines the level of interest in their news stories by Tweets
2) Governments who wish to control their people had better figure out how to get control of the means of communication–and that usually doesn’t work out too well.