During the 2008 United States presidential election we experienced the first indication of a previously unknown political media ecology. Driven by social media such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter and propagated via computer, cellphone and MP3 player, these elements of what Fordham University professor Paul Levinson has called the “New New Media,” changed our national political landscape and are now working globally to transform political balances around the world. At home, grassroots organizers for Barack Obama were able to bypass the mainstream media, speak directly to potential voters and to orchestrate small-cap fund raising drives on an unprecedented scale. Off-the-cuff comments from candidates captured by portable devices drove news cycles for weeks at a time and changed political fortunes. For example, one instance of George Allen’s career-ending “macaca” video has currently been viewed on YouTube almost 400,000 times. As Levinson notes in his upcoming book, The New New Media: “the true or fully empowered new new media user also has the option of producing content, and consuming content produced by hundreds of millions of other new new media consumer-producers.”
Now, with the current election fiasco in Iran, we are seeing the true potential of the new new media. The obviously fraudulent Iranian election outcome might have gone unnoticed and unchallenged in previous political media environments. At the very least, the Iranian ruling powers would have been able to clamp down on information flow by shutting down media outlets and controlling reporters’ access to the events.
Not anymore. Cell phone videos and snapshots of demonstrations and reprisals, “Tweets” with tactical and other organizing information and other new new media reporting have completely trumped Iranian efforts to control the public perception of their election. As Richard Engel noted on The Rachel Maddow Show last night, to control the user-generated content of civil protest the Iranian rulers would have to shut down the entire country: