Not to take a back seat, Facebook is driving its social network headlong into the streets of Iran. As witnessed last week when it hastened to make 'real-time search' a major priority, Facebook, not to be overshadowed by Twitter wants to be perceived as a major player on the national scene. Evidence of how it looks to achieve that goal are surfacing in the US and the Middle East.
On June 19, Facebook released a beta version in the Persian language (also known as Farsi) of its entire site. "Since the Iranian election last week, people around the world have been sharing news and information on Facebook about the results and its aftermath," noted Eric Kwan, a Facebook engineer working to translate the site. "Much of the content created and shared has been in Persian -- the native language of Iran -- but people had to navigate the site in English or other languages." With the Facebook translation, Persian speakers inside of Iran and globally can now begin using it in their native language. Kwan indicated hew wouldn't have been able to accomplish this "without the more than 400 Persian speakers who submitted thousands of individual translations of the site."
Facebook faces a difficult hurdle in usurping Twitter's dominance on the world stage. As a web site it can be impounded or shut down in a country like Iran. Twitter on the other hand acts more like a tool that can be accessed from a multitude of locations like email, cell-phones or even blogging software and can be read from text messages and status updates.
On the flip of this, Facebook users can stock their pages full of photos and videos that the mullahs would just as soon you don't see. This functionality showed that censorship could not easily blanket a country like it was able to do before Web 2.0 era. Twitter is limited to 140 characters, whereas Facebook users can post as much text as they like on any one subject. In addition one can form groups and fan pages for Iranian leaders like Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's political opponent. In less than one week, Moussavi's fan base has swelled from 50,000 to 65,000 on Facebook, and a recent entry on the page includes a photo of Barack Obama.
According to Al Bawabi, a Middle East news web site, the Facebook page of defeated reformist candidate in Iran quoted him on June 20 as saying he is ready to die and calling his followers to go on strike if he is arrested by the regime as he is ready for "martyrdom." Since Moussavi's Facebook's entries are all in Farsi and have not been translated yet, I cannot confirm if this report is fact. CNN TV also reported that they "heard" that Moussavi made this statement but could not attest to its accuracy.
When a young Iranian woman named Neda Agha Soltani was shot dead in cold blood by the Iranian Basij, all of sudden a face was attached to the revolution. Neda, whose name means "voice" in Persian, has become a symbolic martyr figure and is being used as rallying cry. The "Neda Revolution" is taking on a life of its own on all social networks. However , since Facebook users have the ability to use the site as a memorial, over 2100 sympathizers have already signed up to pay their respects and proclaim her the "face of the revolution."
The legacy of the Iranian protests will be played out on the world scene for weeks and months to come. However, it is no denying that social networks have played an intrinsic role in disseminating information to the free world faster than any news organization. Whether Facebook moves in as the dominant player is yet to be seen. The point of this blog was to show that Mark Zuckerberg's team definitely wants to be swimming in the deep end of the pool, and my belief is that there is enough room for Facebook to face off with Twitter in these ominous waters.