The traditional media, CNN for one, had great difficulty getting reliable news subsequent to the controversial elections in Iran. This Theocratic and Totalitarian System has always controlled their traditional media including Radio, TV and even the internet to certain extents. So when major and tumultuous political and social events occur in a tightly controlled and restricted society, what is a major media outlet to do when they can’t get any of their journalists on the scene? Enter: Social Media
CNN has come to rely on Facebook and Twitter as resources for the unfolding events surrounding the political unrest and crackdown in Iran. For the past two weeks Twitter’s main trending topic has been #iranelection, with a few thousand updates per minute at its peak. I often click on the topic to get updated on what is going on, much like CNN. These tweets are coming straight from protesters, and often come with pictures, videos, and other forms of media. Never before has there been such instant and unfiltered information coming from behind the closed walls of dictatorial countries.
Recently, many have been criticizing CNN under the term CNN Fail for not properly covering the events in Iran. Sure, they used Twitter from time to time, but with thousands of updates a minute, there is too much content for the traditional media to digest, discern newsworthiness and verify source information. So CNN was clearly behind the curve; appearing to be a follower, a novice even in pursuit of the news and reality of what is really going on. The Crisis in Iran should have been at the top of the headlines, as it was the leading story of consequence throughout the crisis. I’m sure it would be far more relevant and captivating than re-running Larry King interviewing the cast from American Chopper, as riveting as that sounds. Even on CNNbrk (CNN’s breaking news Twitter account) they posted broken links that were suppose to lead to breaking content regarding the elections in Iran. Does CNN even know what they are doing? It seems like they are failing at both understanding the importance Twitter has, and failing at how to use it. Children know how to post links on Twitter, but not one of the leading news sources in the country. Now I know why people categorize these occurrences, and the current state of CNN under CNN Fail.
Even though CNN has had a hard time fully grasping and utilizing Twitter, the rest of us have not, especially the youth in Iran. Despite the Iranian government shutting down internet access after 3pm, many people have not only been able to get their messages across through Twitter and Facebook, but have also used these online social platforms to organize rallies, meetings, and strategies on how to best voice their outrage. There can be no better example of how users who understand technology can actually utilize it to their fullest potential while the traditional giants of media struggle to learn and understand how the whole sphere of social media changes forever how people get and share information, particularly in crisis situations that are far too liquid for traditional media to handle in traditional ways.
Perhaps CNN et al will learn from this experience and fully embrace social media. In addition, they should refocus on news they can cover best. For instance, now that the crackdown has occurred and the protesters have left the streets, it’s time for good old fashioned investigative reporting. CNN should use Twitter to reach into the fabric of Iranian society and learn what the Iranian people are dealing with now and what their current hopes and aspirations are with all that has transpired. In other words, since the pace of news has slowed down to a level that CNN can cope with, they should step up and leverage the Social Media to tell the untold stories of the Iranian people.