Going beyond the hashtag to follow Iran

June 18, 2009

Over on Slate Jack Shafer is concerned that his "cognitive colander isn’t big enough to strain out Iran information" on Twitter. For the last couple of days I’ve been tracking what has been going on in Iran and suffering from a similar problem. But hopefully this post might help.

To begin with I fired up Tweetdeck, stuck in the relevant hashtags – #Iran, #IranElection, #Tehran, #GR88, and #Iran9 – and tried to keep on top of it all. But I quickly became frustrated with this approach; I was overwhelmed by the volume of material being produced as twitterers from all over the world flooded the hashtags.

Following people by location is also problematic because users can set a false Twitter location and this widely retweeted post encouraged people to change it to confuse the regime.

So I decided to create a new Twitter account in addition to my own account.* For the new account, I selected twitterers to follow who were on the ground in Iran and other useful twitterers to create a focussed source of front line information. 

I was aided in this process by people who had already published lists of the best Twitter sources and by handpicking twitterers while I was monitoring Tweetdeck. 

Interestingly, Iran’s Twitterati is also helping in the filtering process by identifying reliable twitterers and calling on other Twitter feeds to be ignored or blocked. A number of twitterers were desperately trying to ensure that reliable, first hand information was being circulated on the social networking site with varying degrees of success.       

By creating a smaller group of twitterers to monitor I do risk missing something interesting from a brand new twitterer (which would have to be treated very carefully in any case).

But this approach provides a much more manageable way of procuring relevant information. And if something crops up that was of real significance I’m confident that my smaller selected group would pick up on it pretty quickly. I can also dip back into Tweetdeck every now and then to make sure my smaller group is providing the necessary coverage.

*You could also do this by creating a group on Tweetdeck and this will save you creating a new Twitter account. But in this instance I found it easier simply to start afresh

While I’m not sure how possible it is for Twitter users to be tracked down by the regime, and Twitter usernames have been broadcast all over the Western media I have decided to err on the side of caution and have deliberately omitted some links from this post.