As a matter of fact, Twitter and Facebook are a central environment for protestors to share and discuss protests activities and events. Moreover, new communication technologies like smartphones enabled users to act as citizen journalists in time of crisis. The present study was designed to investigate Twitter visual contents of 2017 Iranian protests in terms of emotional arousing and efficacy-eliciting features. This study marks the first attempt of exploratory research in Iran aiming to analyze visual contents on Twitter, and it contributes to theoretical and practical knowledge in this area.
Journalists and researchers can incorporate its findings into further work on collective action and visual communication on social me-dia. Consistent with the literature that studied visual contents of twitter, this research found that majority of visual contents about 2017 protests in Iran contained efficacy-eliciting characteristics. However, studies on textual content of twitter found that emotionally arousing content prevails. Generally, coverage of the Iranian protests displays predominantly efficiency elicit characteristics which indicate Twitter is being approached as a tool for steering public opinion towards particular problems, rather than for raising emotional response.
Visuals containing protest activities are generally more popular. Furthermore, as amount of protest activities increases, so does the posts’ reach.
This, however, is not valid for posts with violent content, as it does not affect the posts’ popularity. This further supports the notion of public opinion being driven more by efficiency than emotions. Moreover, visuals containing small crowds tend to display more of emotional arousing content compared to visuals containing larger crowds.
It should be noted, that over the past years, social media has been used in the process of hybrid war. Some countries employ bots or bot farms to produce and disseminate high quantities of content with the objective of influencing public opinion and coverage of certain events, such as campaigns or protests. There is a possibility of similar actions taking place in Iran as well, and further investigation is needed in order to include this factor into the research.
Other notable finding of current research showed that only 11 users report their location as Iran. A possible explanation for this might be that users from inside Iran prefer to remain anonymous in order to protect their identity. So that, they can express their thoughts and ideas about political and economic dissatisfaction with more freedom. In fact, the political-social context is very important in the analysis and research of the modern media. For example, in a geographic area like North America, you may not object to a protest while being a protest act in another area based on the socio-political structure. Furthermore, many internet users in Iran use a VPN service both to access blocked websites and to encrypt their internet activity. This makes determining how many us-ers are physically in Iran more challenging and makes it hard to draw conclusions based on geograph-ical basis.
The fact that a number of websites, including Twitter, are not accessible without a third-party application, such as VPN, also leads to many Iranians not having access to these websites at all. In conclusion, there is a possibility that our sample does not fully represent Iranian society a whole. It can also explain higher number of persons posting from locations outside of the country. This study does have limitations that need to be acknowledged. Firstly, present research only emphasized on quantitative aspects of photos and videos shared on Twitter. To develop a full pic-ture of social media role in protests in Iran, additional qualitative studies like semiotic will be need-ed to investigate visual characteristics of 2017 protests on social media.
Secondly, we did not as-sess the degree of violent. For example, different categories of violent content are perceived. For instance, Image of an injured person will raise different emotions responses than presence of military forces. Furthermore, most of the photos and videos were taken by cellphone and did not have a good quality and this made the process of coding slow because coders had to watch each video more than one time. Lastly, we recommend researchers to use social media analytic in order to gather data systematically.
The emphasis of present research was on social media utilization during protests and specifically, we addressed emotionally arousing and efficacy-eliciting aspects of photos and videos on Twitter during 2017 protests in Iran. The results indicate that less violent content are shared on Twitter dur-ing 2017 protests in Iran. In other word, twitters accounts were more interested in sharing content that illustrate crowds and protestors’ activities than violent contents. However, most of videos and photos illustrated small to medium size of crowd (less than 100 people). Finding also showed that visual contents with more protest activity were popular and get more retweet than emotional arousing content.