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[Opinion] Twitter

Posted June. 20, 2009 09:46,   


College students in China demanded political freedom and democracy at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989, but were met by tanks. The historic event was spread throughout the world via fax. With Chinese authorities controlling all media and communication channels, students sent the news to the West through fax. U.S. students relayed what the Western media reported on the crackdown to their Chinese counterparts. So the Tiananmen protest used to be called the “fax revolution.”

When Slovenia announced its secession from Yugoslavia in June 1991, Yugoslavia invaded Slovenia. Slovenian college students sent reports of the brutality and massacre of civilians by Yugoslav soldiers to the West through e-mail and the Internet. Though they could not send videos because Internet technology remained undeveloped at that time, this was enough to let the world know about the Balkan civil war. The international community grew enraged with Yugoslavia, and in the end, the United Nations stepped in to end the war.

The supporters of former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who lost in the June 12 presidential election, are demonstrating to annul the result over allegations of a rigged election. They have reportedly increased their influence by exchanging information through Twitter. Started in the United States in 2006, the online messaging service can send 140 characters via cell phones or the Internet. Though the Iranian government has expelled foreign correspondents and blocked satellite broadcasting and Web sites, news about Iranian troops firing on protesters has rapidly spread through Iran and the world through Twitter.

The Boston Globe ran a political cartoon about Twitter’s boom. In the cartoon, Iran`s Supreme Leader tells demonstrators with notebooks and cell phones, “Expel the correspondents!” His subordinate says, “But they’re all correspondents!” In the past, authoritarianism and totalitarianism were possible because the media was blocked. Now, information technology connected to the world spreads information at the speed of light despite government control. Twitter tried to stop service for 90 minutes for maintenance but was asked not to do by the U.S. State Department. The duel between the Iranian government and Twitter should prove to be a lot of fun.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)