A Tale of Two Twitters

By Jere Hester
|  Tuesday, Jun 23, 2009  |  Updated 8:17 PM PDT
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Dramatic Photos: The Iranian Election

The silly celebrity saga stands in marked juxtaposition to the tweets emanating from Iran, describing the continuing violence and containing links to sickening videos of the murder of a young woman named Neda.

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The tweets came, one after the other, telling a tale of cruelty and bloodshed.

We're talking, of course, about the posts – from online gossip columnist Perez Hilton’s Twitter account – initially charging he was assaulted at a Toronto party over the weekend by will.i.am and the musician’s bodyguards.

“I am bleeding. Please, I need to file a police report. No joke,” Perez tweeted.

There were more tweets (after all, how much can you really say in 140 characters or less?) and a video response from will.i.am, who said that after a verbal dust-up with Hilton, fans defending the star's honor scuffled with the gossip. Hilton posted his own tear- and profanity-filled video Monday, disputing will.i.am’s version (though Hilton now directly blames his injuries on the Black Eyed Peas’ tour manager, who reportedly has been charged in the alleged assault).

The silly celebrity saga stands in marked juxtaposition to the tweets emanating from Iran, describing the continuing violence and containing links to the sickening video of the murder of a young woman named Neda, who quickly become the face of the uprising.

But who - or what - is the face of Twitter?

Much of the news about the microblogging tool in recent months – and there's been a ton of it, in traditional and nontraditional media – has focused on celebrity users (Oprah tweets! But Ashton's still the Twitter king!)

But the turmoil in Iran has provided a showcase for Twitter's possibilities – and potential pitfalls – as an information dissemination tool.

Despite a clampdown on social media by embattled Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following his disputed claims of a re-election landslide, Twitter, Facebook and other online services have become a key means of distributing news and rallying opposition to the regime. However, there have been troubling reports of disinformation campaigns employing online media.

The lack of filters is both Twitter’s strength and weakness. The power of Twitter rest with the users – in what’s posted and in whose tweets you follow and believe.

The content can range from the frivolous to important breaking news. Users can choose to follow the moment-by-moment travails of Perez Hilton, the budding revolution in Iran as it unfolds – or both.

Either way, what we’re really seeing is a revolution in how information is delivered.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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