Social Media: the End of Mediation

IStock_000004284243XSmallI can’t write about Social Media Marketing today.  The inspiring, unstoppable stream of citizen media coming out of Iran is too inspiring and awful.

If you have the heart and stomach to watch it, this video of the death of a girl now popularly known as “Neda” — Farsi for the call — will not only haunt you forever, but will also tell you all you need to know about how the world is changing.

The filters are off. The collective is self-aware. The masses are the media. 

The “cluetrain” was too short-sighted a vision. It was too focused on corporate marketers.  That’s such an infinitesimal part of the real story.  The real cluetrain has wings; it’s flying right off the rails.

We’ve been programmed to accept the reality of mainstream editorial decisions.  As a society we have made decisions on matters of culture and war and breakfast cereal based on what “The Editors” have elected to show us. You won’t see Neda die — looking straight at you — on CNN.

While we have to thank the Powers That Be at YouTube for deciding to let Iran’s citizen footage stay online for their “documentary value,” I’d suggest that this unexpurgated content would still have found its way to us. I also think that the technical tricks that the rebellious Iranians are now popularizing could further erode censorship and “editorial policies” across all societies. 

In order to quell one riot, the police may use water cannons, shotguns, batons.  But how do you stop a countrywide riot?  When everyone in Iran sees a gang of police back down and run from a mob of protestors, why would anyone in Iran ever run way again? 

In a world in which Social Media exists, autocrats will need to resort to increasingly savage tactics to maintain order — knowing full well that these moves will be documented and surreptitiously broadcast after-the-fact: which in turn will threaten their legitimacy in the eyes of both their own citizens and the global community.  Social Media creates a (virtuous? viscious?) cycle: unstoppable transparency in an authoritarian society must lead to unconscionable cruelty, which must lead to revolution, which will lead to renewal.

The people are being reintroduced to each other, across oceans and cultures.  The cracks are showing.  We are recognizing our universality.  We are no longer so willing to be duped by those in power. 

It’s true in Social Media Marketing.  It’s true in Iran.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to suggest that “Social Media is just one of many tools in the toolbox” again.  While that’s a defensible statement to a marketer maybe, ultimately Social Media as a cultural force is, truly, bigger than all that.

Posted on: June 22, 2009 at 10:41 am By Todd Defren
50 Responses to “Social Media: the End of Mediation”


  • Jacquie says:

    So sorry to see the accusations of your motives here. I just know that like others, I hadn’t seen Neda — or other video from Iran — until your post. Whatever else is involved, you helped some of us stop in our tracks and really think. You forced us to see. And to wrestle with some tough personal issues. For that, I thank you.

  • Rosanne Gain says:

    To borrow a phrase from the 1968 Democrat Convention in Chicago, “The whole world is watching.”

  • Kami Huyse says:

    So much in this post.

    It was Clay Shirky that said loosely paraphrased that it is not the social media tools themselves but how people use them.

    The reason that social media are just tools is because it is the people and relationships that should get the focus. These are enabled by the tools. It is actually the Internet which is the big shift that allows the world to be flattened and information to flow. The applications and technology enabling social networks are the human response to utilizing a resource and bending it to our will.

  • Phil Butler says:

    Just when I thought I had seen everything. You know Todd, I do not even know what to say to this, but I have to say something. This Un-Marketing marketing via perhaps the most horrible thing ever sent to me vie the Web?

    “The people are being reintroduced to each other, across oceans and cultures. The cracks are showing. We are recognizing our universality. We are no longer so willing to be duped by those in power.”

    Duped. An interesting choice of words when linking to another human being exiting life. I guess your throng of followers will not feel duped having gotten their fill of poetic, poetic, uh, what is that Todd? Compassion?

    The king of social media reduced to capitalizing, in whatever form, on the horror of a woman’s life not only ending, but ending in the FACE of a cruel, cold YouTube conduit. Please do not even go into how innocent and upset your are. So upset you cannot hammer out a social media destiny any more. Good god man.

    You are one of the most respected people in this social conversation. Perhaps the very best one to be talking to Google or Youtube about throwing this horror back at the person who stood there, pushing the buttons on their Sony Super HD Digital Carl Zeiss technology, as the world ended before them.

    You will have to excuse me. I have done good articles and bad ones about the high and mighty of the Web. Rather than go that far on some blog, I will freaking write to Google’s management myself. What are you preaching to these blind mice man? Marketing, Mahem, or both?


    • TDefren says:

      As usual, Phil, we are in violent disagreement.

      First off, umm, you can take a flying leap for suggesting I am trying to capitalize on the death of that young woman.

      Next, WTF are you suggesting? That Google should censor those videos? You are ADVOCATING for censorship?

      As I noted above, I am writing about how Truth and Transparency, for the people, by the people, will change the world. It’s already happening. I am both documenting it and applauding the power of Social Media to bridge cultures and impel action. Whereas the CENSORSHIP that you seem to be asking for would allow us to continue on our merry, callow way, the videotaped death of that young woman has catalyzed Iran and millions of others abroad. It humanized the conflict more than any CNN anchor ever could.

      I can deplore the death while lauding the movement that brought it to light. I can hold a complex thought like that in my head. Can you?

      • SaraKate says:


        First of all, I completely agree with your statement above about truth and transparency for the people by the people is going to change the world and that social media is helping it along.

        While some may find it disrespectful to show death and destruction or else otherwise share it via social media, it’s extremely important in showing just how things actually are happening and it’s a powerful thing to be able to give that option to the people without having to submit it to television or radio news stations or waiting for approval from a newspaper or magazine.

        The situation here reminds me of the debate to show casualties of war on television, first how showing the real effects of war in the Vietnam era effected the way the general public viewed both the military and the media, and most recently the coffins coming back from Iraq… and I wonder… is it lack of respect to share these things with the rest of the world, or would it be a disservice to keep them from the public eye?


      • Mihaela Lica says:

        OK, Todd, this time you went too far. What Phil meant is not to advocate censorship, but to advocate humanity. How would you like it if someone you love would be in a similar situation like the Iranian girl and someone would broadcast her death online? You don’t want me to ask that difficult question, Todd! OK, here it goes: when you take your last breath, no matter what circumstances, would you like the WORLD to witness?

        I think you are too blinded by this phenomenon called social media. I applaud it as well, it brought communication between people to unexpected peaks. As for publishing videos of people departing this world, no matter the circumstances, Todd, the social media goes too far! As a marketer yourself, when you use that in an article, you actually did capitalize on the event! You used it to “prove a point” for God’s sake!

      • TDefren says:

        Mihaela, this particular video was discussed on the front page of the NYTIMES. Convince their editors that it was not newsworthy, and instead should have been brushed under the carpet, and you’ll have me convinced, too.

        And for the record, if (GOD FORBID) my daughter was killed at random by a brutal regime, and her death would inspire an entire country to rise up – yea, I’d be heartbroken but at least this breach of privacy would foment a worthy revolution. Thanks for asking.

        And if you think Phil was advocating for “humanity,” perhaps he should have used a more humane approach?

      • Mihaela Lica says:

        Todd, I don’t think that Phil used a wrong approach, I think that you are biased by the previous incident when, because of a disagreement, you called him a TDeffren hater on Twitter. I think that was a rather strong word to use. Phil is passionate about things, but he is definitely not a hater.

        As far as broadcasting death, Todd, I will never agree. Not like that and not in the name of traffic and linkbaiting anyway.

        Maybe I am wrong and you didn’t mean it that way, but this is the impression I got, and frankly, I was not expecting this from Todd Deffren. This article, would have been as good without a link to that video, without mentioning the girl twice.

        I don’t want to go into a longer debate, we obviously don’t agree and I really don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I will never make a comment in the future, perhaps I will still read you from time to time, but I will not say a thing. I think you prefer comments from people who agree with you, rather than opposite opinions.

      • TDefren says:

        Mihaela – You are welcome to comment and to disagree, because you do it respectfully. I do think you got the wrong impression though, if you think I was linkbaiting or whatever. Again, that horrific video is literally FAMOUS at this point and it seemed more applicable than not to post the link (note that I did WARN readers that they would be profoundly and forever disturbed if they chose to click on it).

        The “hater” statement made a few weeks ago was meant in a more light-hearted way than it was taken, i.e., just “internetspeak” about a disagreement, not about “actual” hatred. Still, fwiw, I find Phil to be a bit too sanctimonious in how he relays his opinions. I only give as good as I get. And again, you’ve been respectful and are always welcome here, as reader or commenter.

        Lastly – can we try to remember the actual point of the post? Forget about the term “Social Media.” It is about how technology is enabling suppressed peoples to make themselves seen, heard, understood, as more than just cartoonish members of a so-called axis of evil. We’re NOT always going to like what we see or what that all means, because Life can totally SUCK sometimes (to say the least). That doesn’t mean we should not know that and be compelled to respond.

  • Todd – I agree with you to a point. The volume of supportive messages on networks from Flickr to Twitter makes it difficult to spot the original sources. There’s no editorial function filtering signal from noise, and providing an indication of authority. All the best, Stephen

  • Powerful. Thank you for stepping out of the marketing role and into Real Life and sharing your thoughts in this great article.
    I hadn’t seen the Neda video until I clicked from your post. Though I am aware on a cerebral level that many bad and tragic things happen in the world each day, something about those images paralyzed me body and mind in front of my computer. You could not be more right about the filter being off. It’s both liberating and terrifying.
    This really feels like the beginning of a revolution that is not about any one geographic, national, or religious space, but about what it means to be human. We live in amazing times.
    Thanks again for sharing your heartfelt thoughts.

  • I remember thinking something similar when the Internet foiled the Russian coup of 1991. The Internet, instant information? Sealed the fate of tyranny.

  • David Mullen says:

    Todd – Thanks for sharing this perspective. I had a similar realization over the weekend as I happened upon the Neda video from a tweet I saw on Twitter.

    I was stopped by it. I just sat there surrounded by a whirlwind of thoughts. The things in my life that moments before seemed frustrating and uncomfortable suddenly seemed petty. I clicked on video after video from Iranians who have captured and shared the protests with the rest of the world. You couldn’t help but see our shared humanity through them, as well as a group of people who believe in a positive change so strongly that they’re willing to die for it.

    Then I saw the story that the U.S. State Department asked Twitter to rescheduled a planned maintenance downtime because it would have been during daytime in Iran and Twitter has become too important an outlet for information from Iranians.

    Those things together made me look outside the marketing bubble to see that something a lot bigger is going on here. Sure, I knew that in my head. But I don’t think I had an appropriate appreciation for it until now.

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