As you might expect, the election crisis in Iran has brought a lot of fawning coverage about the role of the newest of the new media, especially social networking sites and most notably Twitter, in keeping people around the world informed and keeping the protesters in Tehran and elsewhere connected.
Here's the New York Times' take on this:
As the embattled government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be trying to limit Internet access and communications in Iran, new kinds of social media are challenging those traditional levers of state media control and allowing Iranians to find novel ways around the restrictions.
Iranians are blogging, posting to Facebook and, most visibly, coordinating their protests on Twitter, the messaging service. Their activity has increased, not decreased, since the presidential election on Friday and ensuing attempts by the government to restrict or censor their online communications.
On Twitter, reports and links to photos from a peaceful mass march through Tehran on Monday, along with accounts of street fighting and casualties around the country, have become the most popular topic on the service worldwide, according to Twitter's published statistics.
That's great -- but the digital divide is growing wider and wider. And I say this as a user and a fan of Twitter. But it's clear that as the new media over the Internet gets better and faster, coverage of events like Iran in the old media continues to get worse, and that means millions are actually less informed -- the kind of people who aren't tethered to a computer and wouldn't dream of getting news in 140 characters, inspersed with tweets from Britney Spears or your local chicken joint.
When the swine flu outbreak occurred, our Mexico bureau was not staffed and we did not send anybody to it. When the Mumbai terrorist attack occurred last year, we didn't send anybody. As the Iranian elections were approaching, we thought long and hard about whether we would send anybody, and for a long time we thought we wouldn't because it simply costs a lot of money to send a reporter into Iran. Finally we decided that we needed to do it. They were giving out visas, and they aren't easy to get. But to do that, what we did was cancel a trip for a reporter to Afghanistan.
No doubt about it, this will be one of the great challenges of the next decade. Can we keep the Great American Couch Potato as well informed as the self-absorbed Twitterati? Stay tuned.