#Neda and the Power of the Viral Image

07/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The 37-second amateur video that shows in vivid and horrifying detail a young girl named Neda dying of a gunshot wound on the streets of Tehran has the capacity to change the political dynamic in Iran. It may already have done so.

I will not link to the video here. The decision to watch it should be made carefully, knowing it is sickening and likely to remain with you for the rest of your life. You can easily find links to it on this site if you want.

I found it nearly overwhelming. I had to step away from the computer and gather myself. Afterward when describing it to my wife my voice was shaking and I couldn't quite formulate my thoughts.

The morning after viewing it I can say this: I believe that 37-second clip can transform global opinion.

I liken it to the 1972 photograph of the young Vietnamese girl running naked through the streets, her skin seared by the chemical burn of napalm. Or the 1963 picture of police dogs attacking civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama. Both, it is argued, played a key role in galvanizing public opinion on the political issues they represented.

For me, and I suspect many who view it, the Neda video says with absolute clarity: The violent crackdown on street protesters in Tehran must not stand. The perpetrators must be stopped or removed. It says this more plainly and powerfully than anything else I've encountered.

It eliminates any ambivalence or subtlety one might have about the situation there.

Last night I was actually wondering how a government responsible for Neda's death -- in an environment where cheap, instant, global, many-to-many communications has brought the phrase "the whole world is watching" closer to literal fact than it was in the 1960s -- can possibly remain in power.

In the cool light of morning I realize that was dramatic hyperbole, heavily colored by emotion.

But still: That 37-second video has already become a singular, powerful fact driving global opinion. Its impact will only accelerate and expand. It will have consequences.

Let me also predict that the mainstream media is going to miss the import of that video. Partly because they dare not show it, and thus it will not become part of their newsrooms' collective consciousness-or conscience.

But also because they still tend to view amateur, viral "reporting" as marginal "bonus" material, incapable of driving public thought in the way their own professional reporting and opinionating can.

There is a #Neda hashtag on Twitter. It captures conversations about and inspired by the video.

Yet it is now being added as a hashtag to general Twitterizing on the election protests, as an expression of commitment at least as powerful as the green avatars that hover like nauseated witnesses over the 140-character global thoughtstream.

Much is made about Twitter and its limited ability to drive change.

This isn't about that.

It's about the power of a single, brief incident captured on video -- in an environment where people share what moves them instantly with a global audience, without the assistance or approval of governments, media or any institution -- to change others' minds.

Change the world?

In the cool light of morning, I realize that's foolish too.

But if you are feeling strong and brave and willing to have a horrifying image seared into your brain, view the video.

It will change you.