Open Communication – Now and Forever?

(UPDATE: See this clip from CNN 6/20/09, 4 days after I wrote the following post. They now call it “the Internet Revolution.”)

The Iran protests and Twitter’s hand in dramatically showing that an oppressive regime can no longer censor dissent may have changed communications forever.

Ahmadinejad’s regime thought they had shut down all social media sites and Iranian ISP’s even before the election. But they couldn’t do it. With Twitter leading the charge, onsite observers sent hundreds of thousands of instant messages, videos and pictures through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The world perhaps watched even more intently because of this dramatic, historic and new communications experience – the perfect storm.

The Open Medium

Could a simple little message distribution system like Twitter have such profound change. I think so, and others like The Nation agree.

Twitter is the first truly open social media that I know of. Count the ways:

  • In the news. Iran is not the first example of people flocking to Twitter to get their news immediately and unfiltered. The Miracle on the Hudson was just one of countless breaking news examples. And it was pressure from Twitter on the first day of the protests (last Saturday) that forced CNN to increase their coverage of the riots and discontent.
  • Open relationships. It’s no coincidence that Twitter cannot be suppressed, technically as well as behaviorally. The culture of Twitter insists on open, not closed; free not censored; share not take. I personally am amazed at the real relationships I have built through Twitter with people from all walks and seasons of life: @speli (a new friend from the last week, several common interests including Iran), @ChrisSpagnuolo (acquaintance who became close friend), @Ed (an inspiring story, but for another time), @MichaelHyatt (top CEO who has become a friend with great insights/info), and the list goes on… Only because of vulnerability on both sides. Unique. Culturally driven.
  • Those who succeed at Twitter are NOT those who Block their Updates. Twitter, and all Social Media, are for those who engage and share with others – insights, information, ideas, links, and actually, their lives. Blocked updates are an antithesis to Twitter – why take the time to join? There are other means of communicating privately – it’s not on Twitter.
  • Thus many corporations are going to have to change. As I’ve been advocating social media to high level clients and executives (often white, male and boomers) I’ve been talking to those experienced in control and hierarchy. I’ll never forget the lesson learned several years ago, talking to a potential client (Fortune 100) who wanted us to help his direct reports be trained to write speeches and read them – so he personally could edit them in advance. We disagreed then. We didn’t get that job. And it was in a different era, but many are still living in it.
  • Philosophy in social media. Both Twitter and Facebook have made some decisions that backfired – and the immediate response from their millions of members changed their policies. Instantly. This is new – it used to take days and weeks to build pressure on media or institutions to change, if they even would change. Now it’s instant, and responsive – open listening.

Perhaps communication has changed forever. It will be fascinating, and valuable for reasons beyond politics, to see how the Iran crisis plays out. My guess is that Twitter will go down as integral to the end result.

And more importantly, it may now be impossible for a repressive, censoring regime to succeed in any country. Or any company for that matter. How can you censor when people can connect openly with each other.

I think Twitter has changed the communications game. What do you think?

4 comments on “Open Communication – Now and Forever?

  1. It’s a whole new world, Bert, and we can either hide from it or embrace it and learn how to make it work for us. Iran, the bombings in India and the Hudson crash are perfect examples of expanding the use of a tool that already existed and making it even more effective and useful than we knew it could be.

  2. As a business skills trainer, I see that the internet, texting, social networking and especially Twitter, are impacting how effective we communicate in person. We know that since the invention of the telephone, people discovered they could be whoever and however they wanted with this new sense of invulnerable anonymity. It is true that in repressive regimes, this can be terrifically liberating but in our free country and other’s similar, the people become less socially ept in person.

  3. I agree and disagree. There is much more communication now than ever before. However, the increased communication is not necessarily of high quality. As an example, my email inbox is so bombarded with spam, that occasionally important messages are lost. As another example, the comments section of a newspaper article online can be two, five, ten or more times longer than the actual article. Many of the comments are simply emotional reactions (sometimes to other commenters) and bring nothing valuable to the discussion. As an aside, sometimes the articles fall into that same category.
    I think there is great potential for misuse. I feel that a major form of disrespect is to try and manipulate people. As you’ve shown, totalitarian governments excel in this area, and it is becoming less effective. That’s a good thing. At the same time, it is now easier than ever before to form a mob and harass a person, a corporation or an organization. I am afraid that people forget that just because they feel strongly about something, it doesn’t make them right. An example might be the disabled Nova Scotia man who can’t get service at the drive through window of Tim Horton’s, because there is a policy against serving anyone on a motorized wheelchair (or on foot, or on bicycle) for their own safety. He refuses the restaurant’s offer to send an employee outdoors to serve him, instead appealing to the Human Rights Commission (and the public) to try and force the store’s hand. (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2009/06/15/hortons-scooter.html?ref=rss).
    Hopefully, truth and right will carry the day, in Iran and in Canada. Unfortunately, I don’t think increased communication over the Internet is the only ingredient. The ability to interact positively with other human beings, a skill that is not taught (in our society), seems to be increasingly rare, but increasingly important.

  4. You are absolutely right. Closing out an entire nation from the rest of the world was the dictator’s strongest card… it’s gone now. Hallelujah.