A Revolution in 140 Characters? Reflecting on the Role of Social Networking Technologies in the 2009 Iranian Post-Election Protests

Authors

  • Philipp S. Mueller,

  • Sophie van Huellen


Abstract

The 2009 post-election protests in Tehran in Iran are colloquially referred to as the “Twitter revolution.” Mainstream public opinion assumed that the use of social media, such as Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and especially Twitter, significantly affected the evolution and outcome of the revolutionary collective action. This paper analyzes the Iranian case to look at the effect of such many-to-many media on power structures in society. Two analytical approaches—the power-shift and the media-shift perspective—are offered as possible heuristics to frame the complex interplay of media and revolutionary politics. Analyzing empirical findings on Iran's Web demography, censorship mechanisms, the protests' organization and the Western mass media's reaction, we find that social media played a decisive role in raising international awareness by transforming the agenda-setting process of the Western mass media. However, they turned out to be of lesser relevance for the protests' progress in overthrowing the regime. A change in the mediascape does not automatically imply a changed powerscape, at least not in 2009 Tehran.

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