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Does a green Twitter avatar really support democracy in Iran?

June 18, 2009

A lot of Twitterers are putting a green overlay on their avatars to show their support for Iran’s opposition party, led by Mir-Hossein Mousavi and symbolized by the color green.

Great. We love democracy. But is it actually doing anything to help?

Well, not really. It’s telling Iranian government officials that a lot of Westerners don’t support its current administration, which they already knew. And if you have Iranian friends, it’s showing that you support their cause, which, if you are friends, they also already knew.

It’s not raising money to get people out of prison or to protect high-profile party members. It’s not collecting donations or organizing real-world demonstrations. It takes two seconds of your time, and your icon is green. Then you go back to your Starbucks latte.

It could be argued that it’s raising awareness worldwide, but that requires insider knowledge — you either know what the overlay means, or you have to be willing to ask. One of my friends (who works at a newspaper) thought a Twitter glitch was turning everyone’s icons green.

The real meaning of the green Twitter icon? Signaling. Your green avatar shows people that you’re educated, that you know and care about world politics. If people ask you what it means, it gives you a chance to show off your worldliness — and, for some, even a little self-righteousness.

So if you’re mostly showing off, does that mean that your green icon is a bad thing? Not necessarily. It allows you to band together with others who want to give off the same signals, and, as I mentioned before, there is some awareness aspect to it.

Don’t be ashamed to green your avatar if you want to. Just question yourself: Make sure you have your motives clear.

UPDATE 2:47 p.m.: If you do want to do more than “show support,” @leahhitchens on Twitter pointed me to this post. If you follow the links therein, there are even more ideas that will do much more to help Iranians than making yourself look like Oscar the Grouch.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. sauer kraut permalink
    June 20, 2009 2:41 pm

    Wearing green or doing the green overlay may not be for you a clear indication of “motive” but does that really matter? Why do people need to answer to you? It’s a free country and, in many places not called Iran, a free world. Let people do it if it makes them feel as if they are contributing something to the issue. Otherwise, there is left the impression that the world is keeping silent. Silence equals consent. Doing the green thing is not being silent.

    Support democracy in Iran by being green. It’s about the only thing we can really do, isn’t it?

  2. Natalie DeBruin permalink*
    June 20, 2009 3:05 pm

    sauer kraut,

    Motives matter to me — but I’m really interested in incentives, whereas you might not be. That’s perfectly OK. It’s just a matter of differing values. I don’t think anyone has to “answer to” me; nor am I passing judgment on anyone. I was just putting some ideas out there.

    You do make a good point — not being silent is something. But your conclusion worries me. If you’ll look at the end of my post, you’ll see that a green icon is not necessarily “about the only thing we can really do.”

    Thanks for your input, though. I do appreciate it.


  1. The Green Overlay « The Learning Blender

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