by SWJ Editors
by Adam Elkus, Small Wars Journal
When Iranians took to the streets to protest vote-rigging by their nation's theocratic-military dictatorship, the West was more transfixed by the medium rather than the message. Many journalists fixated on the supposedly revolutionary usage of social media technology by the Iranian protestors, their diaspora supporters, and the bloggers who relayed their messages to the outside world. According to the narrative that developed, Twitter and other microblogging tools offer unprecedented real-time access to crisis situations like the Iranian uprising, giving social media users a vast information advantage over those who rely on traditional forms of media such as magazines and network television.
One writer worried that this self-selecting "information elite" could use their power to rapidly access information and form opinions to influence public views and policy. His concerns, while thoughtful, are ultimately misplaced. Instead of creating a new information elite, Twitter has added another dimension to the longtime problem of the tactical information junkie. Tactical open-source information culled from social media is only useful if it is filtered for white noise, integrated within a sound long-range conceptual frame, and mediated by a mature community of users. As RAND Corporation scientist David Ronfeldt insightfully noted, the real information elite will be those who use networks—both technological and social—to effectively contextualize this tactical information and exploit it.
The purpose of this article is not to bash Twitter, social networking, or blogs, but to critically examine problems in the open-source information ecosystem that "infoenthusiasts" largely ignore and explore possible solutions to the data glut. Twitter and other microblogging tools may not lead to an information elite, but they can undoubtedly be part of a crowdsourced solution.