Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Morality of Business

I have spent the better part of this day quietly contemplating in my head what Twitter should do about the situation in Iran. If you're just joining us, they're killing students in Tehran and there seems to be a mini-revolution going on because of the election. It's bloody and it's bad, and the only way a lot of news is getting out is THROUGH Twitter.

But the students and other Iranian citizen journalists are starting to have a hard time getting through to the proxy servers they've been using to access Twitter. The Iranian government is actively working to censor them and to shut down any news getting out of the country. There are a lot of good people out there who are trying to run proxy servers to help the Iranians access Twitter to get the news out; there's one guy in LA who says he has up to 750 people hitting his server every minute, according to the NY Times. But as soon as the proxies go up, the Iranian government is working to shut them down.

There's little that we can do as private citizens. I have no way to march to Iran and tell them to stop killing their citizens. But I think that a public company, such as Twitter, has a bit more responsibility, especially since their service has become practically the only news source for the entire rest of the civilized world. Even major newspapers are pulling stories off of it. It's a revolution in journalism that shouldn't be stopped by a government that attempts to govern through violence.

I think that Twitter has a moral responsibility to help the people getting killed in Iran. I know it's a difficult thing for a private entity to act against a foreign nation, but there are extra servers they can set up. There are ways they can help provide more proxies. There are ways that they can globally fuck with the Iranian government's censorship. I think they should do it. I think they have a responsibility as a business that has unwittingly gotten embroiled into politics; I think they must act or they will regret doing so. Even now, the United States State Department is urging Twitter to once again delay system maintenance, so as to keep the posts from Iran flowing.

I have great faith in the hivemind of the Internet. I have great faith in the power of the people. I have great faith that if enough of its users demand that Twitter do something, then they will be forced to do so via the will of the people. So please retweet this blog post. Please leave comments, as I'm eager to hear your opinions; comments are moderated, but I release them quickly. Please link to it and spread the word. If we say nothing, if we try to do nothing, then we are just as guilty in those deaths.

In the meantime, here's some other stuff that you can do, via Scott Westerfeld.


Matthew Vermillion said...

Totally agree. RT now. Come on Twitter don't let us down now.

ryan field said...

I'm rtweeting right now.

Gwen Hayes said...

I don't necessarily think Twitter has a moral responsibility as a company--but if they are smart, and I think they are, they will take up the torch they've been handed.

By keeping Twitter front and center in this cyber universe change, they will come out winning. But as for responsibility--it's a slippery slope. I don't think Twitter has any more responsibility than, say, our US government--but then it doesn't always work out so well when our government feels responsible for overthrowing evil dictators.

Another example would be CNN. Every day, their reporters are on the frontlines of war, famine, and other disaster areas. We don't expect them to put down the camera and DO SOMETHING. Their role is to report the conflict. I couldn't do that, personally.

Twitter's role is undefined. I think the people driving social media (that's us) have more responsibility than Twitter itself. But I would love to see them do everything they can to make it easy for us to use them to affect change.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I read the first sentence and wondered what you meant by "what Twitter should do"...but then reading your post, found I agreed with your point. Although I do think somewhat along the same lines as Gwen Hayes and am unsure if Twitter really has a moral responsibility, I do think it would be the ethical thing to do if they worked to make sure the news could get out. I don't even use Twitter but have found myself following it for this. (I'm glad to see some private citizens are trying to help out by setting up proxy servers as well.)

It's always a bit frustrating as a private citizen to not be able to do much directly, but I'm wearing green in solidarity and will change my blog time zones and repost this elsewhere.

Jenny Rae Rappaport said...

Thank you, everyone who's come and read so far. Please feel free to link this and RT it. The more traffic it gets, the more visible the argument becomes.


Julie Weathers said...

I agree completely with Gwen. Truth be known, we have no way of knowing what they are doing behind the scenes. They would be moronic to not do what they can to help.

Unfortunately, sometimes doing what you think is the right thing comes back to bite you in the butt and then the armchair quarterbacks will be hot and heavy to explain how stupid they were. What happens if a group of students sets up a place Twitter has helped established and then they get wiped out? Will everyone who is telling them it's their responsibility refrain from casting the blame on them?

I think Twitter will help as much as they can, but it is not their moral responsibility.

rich said...

Yes, Twitter has the consciousness to help this movement.
They need to get up to speed realtime. They need to have courage and STEP UP. If they are chicken, then just add some more bandwidth to a cure that has fewer tracks. Believe me, I worked for MSFT. There are enough neurons in Twitter devs to rock this party.

sue laybourn said...

I'm not sure about a moral responsibility but, it's certainly been a real eye-opener seeing everything unfold on Twitter and, more importantly, seeing so many people rally 'round.

RT right now.

Jlo0312 said...

I RT your blog. However, I would not have have said that Twitter has a moral responsibility to help out people that use their service...they are in no better shape than you or I regarding our power in Iran. I do agree that because Twitter is wiping the Newspapers out, there should be some sort of Twitter Command set up by the military to figure out what is going on and help those that they can get to. I have been waiting for Iran to explode for days now...they simply cannot seem to accept the choices their people make.

Great blog.

jlo0312 (twitter)