The TwitterIran movement has raised the stakes in the online vs. paper news debate. There's no question: it's no longer about commerce, it's about our freedoms globally.
Newspapers and newsrooms are to democracy like wellness centers are to medical treatment. Newsrooms are the places that track the pulse of developments, monitor the ethical health of our elected officials and businesses, blow a whistle when things are in danger of going awry and air the programs to get us back to health.
Social media and Twitter are to democracy like emergency rooms are to life and death. When Iran puts a drill bit through its "democracy" by pulling a fast one, activists at the grass roots level have the buzzer to call an alarm before the patient bleeds to death.
"It's crazy," says Nassim Nazemi, a former colleague of mine from Chicago web company IGive.com.
"If you check out the trend topic "Iran election" on Twitter, you'll see there are hundreds of posts every 20 seconds," Nazemi said.
"If it weren't for social media, the protesters wouldn't be able to organize. They would not be able to publish their YouTube videos," she says.
At the time I worked with Nazemi in 2000, we were just starting to understand the potential to organize in the real world using online tools. Craigslist was just a short list of threads held together by some special software and I was active in women's social network ChicWit (to become Liz Ryan's WorldWIT, now defunct). In fact, it was online through ChicWIT that I had found a great job at iGive and first got to know dozens of quality professionals here in Chicago building an economic vision for our city online and on the ground.
In the year 2000, the web bubble was fully inflated and ready to burst. The number of iGive employees had swelled to 70 and then shortly after the NASDAQ collapse shrank to two. Nazemi was one of the two who remained after the layoffs, and I learned today that she was a mere 20 years old then.
Like me, Nazemi has always kept her foot in the online revolution, but her favorite subject is monitoring events in her family's country of origin - Iran.
Now, as you've been hearing, Iran has upped the ante in the online news world to fostering Democracy with a capital "D" in places where brute force has been setting the timber for people's daily life.
"How would the world have gotten news of this were it not for the citizens turned reporters?" Nazemi says. "It is really really amazing to me. It's the future of Democracy."
Nazemi tells me that the people on Twitter are not all Iranians. They are people all over the world re-tweeting news out of Iran and protecting the protesters' names.
It's scary what's happening in Iran, she says, and the Twitter community is out in full force.
"We are seeing shocking footage that you will not see anywhere because no reporter is going to go in there," Nazemi says. "The riot police are not going to let you go anywhere near the real story. "
The election results that showed hard-line incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winning were very fishy to her and her friends from the very beginning, but our news outlets were silent, she said.
"There was not nearly the kind of coverage you would expect in regards to a sham election," Nazemi says.
The election itself was conducted in such a suspicious manner and the results were announced so quickly that they could not have been a true account, Nazemi says.
Yep, that's confirmed six days later in an AP timeline of events.
Every informal poll showed reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi in the lead, Nazemi says. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's supporters couldn't say the final tally was a true report.
To show solidarity with the protesters Nasssim is working with Chicago's Iranian community to organize a rally Saturday in support of democracy and the Iranian people. It's June 20, from 4:00pm - 6:00pm at the Daley Center Plaza (near the Picasso sculpture) at 50 W. Washington St.
Nazemim says that everybody coming out to the rally is of the mind that the election was rigged.
"We are standing in support of them, saying 'We want our votes back.
No more dicators.'
"Protestors are demanding that their voices be heard," she says. "They are marching for their basic freedom,"
Nazemi was born here in the United States in 1978, but she has extended family in Iran.
"We have our dream of a free and Democratic Iran," she says. "But it's not our place to say how that should proceed. Among expats, there is no agreement on the road but the destination is clear to everyone."
"That destination," she says, "is a free and Democratic Iran."
Iran is evolving from a monarchy to a theocracy to a democracy.
"They are killing honest civilians and ignoring the will of the people," Nazemi says. "We all see some eerie similarities to the weeks proceeding the 1979 revolution."
"We are here in the U.S. benefiting from freedom and democracy," says Nazemi, who will be attending law school at Northwestern University come fall 2009.
"As an advocate for international human rights, and as an Iranian born in the U.S. who has democracy flowing through my veins," Nazemi says, "I think the world has to know the story of what has happened to Iran over the past 30 years.