Saturday, June 27, 2009

Twitter, Iran, and Michael Jackson

On June 25, I was online and a tweet flashed across Tweetdeck. "Michael Jackson dead?" Soon other tweets popped up about Jackson being rushed to the hospital in cardiac arrest, and then soon after that he had died.

We all know what happened. But what I found interesting about that afternoon is that the announcement of his death spread all over the world in a matter of minutes, and an hour before major news outlets confirmed the same. I went onto Twittervision and watched tweets about Jackson, and almost only tweets about Jackson, flashing all over the world--from Kansas, Cantoon, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Phillippines, Belgium, Columbia. Searching on Twitter search, the app every few minutes would announce thousands of new tweets on Michael Jackson.

The month of June, as well, found the heavy use of Twitter during the Iranian revolution, with protestors tweeting about what was happening in Iran, sending out information that was unavailable from major news sources, and even spreading pictures and video around the world that the Iranian government did not want out, such as the death of Neda.

So what does this all mean?

Various blogs and newscasts call it Twitter "coming of age" which is a little silly. But what is intriguing is that we're seeing an explosion of a use for the microblog as a democratization of news. Ellen Goodman suggested that Twitter's use, especially of the video shown above, is this generation's AP photo of the young Vietnamese girl burned by napalm. Where in essence the populace "gets it," grasping the horror of despotic rule crashing upon a people who desire only to live in peace.

Makes sense for the Iranian revolution. But what about Michael Jackson, a pop star who crowned himself the king of pop? I was just struck at the worldwide reaction to his death. Watching people from all over the globe at the same time offering up expressions of grief for the pop star's death was both chilling and exhilirating. Of course, part of it is the suddenness and at an age where people aren't supposed to just drop dead. This especially hits home for those of us in our early fifties! And of a pop star who in his latter years has been surrounded by controversy, from mask-like plastic surgery to allegations of sleeping with little boys. In other words, it's like a global train wreck where hundreds of thousands online are careening their necks to see a twist of steel and flame.

But it seems more so that the worldwide outpouring of concern and grief comes more from his art--music, dance, video--from the 70s and 80s, having the highest selling album ever. His music played a part in the lives of millions of people all over the world. It reminds me of John Lennon's murder--the shock and grief felt by my generation was palpable across the land, through the media available at the time.

But of course, the outpouring of grief is also the overriding response to the Iranian Twitter phenomenon. When the Neda video was tweeted, all over the world people were sobbing collectively for the senseless murder by a clearly brutal regime.

Empathy. It seems that Web 2.0 apps like Twitter and Facebook have made such collective emotional outpourings much quicker and more visible.