More clarification on what role Twitter does and does not play in the election aftermath in Iran

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Here's a post from ten days ago I wrote in response to an article I considered to be a pretty lazy analysis of the situation in Iran, an article that claimed that users on Twitter are not only overly smug but also harmful to the green movement in Iran. The main point in my response was that since the election Twitter hasn't been a tool to organize protests in Iran but rather simply to broadcast them. Since the election tactics have become very low tech, using methods such as writing on bills to protest and spraying paint on walls to advertise the dates of upcoming major events.

That article also attracted the ire of Niteowl, who wrote a response that then attracted the attention of the original writer (Will Heaven), and there was a bit of back and forth in the comments section there. A day later Will Heaven wrote a blog post here clarifying his position on the role of Twitter, under which I added a comment yesterday. Almost 24 hours later it's still in the queue and no other comments have been approved, so I might as well repost mine here. Here it is:

> It seems difficult to deny that these sorts of messages – mainly posted by Iranian-Americans – incite those inside Iran to commit very dangerous acts.

I'd say it's actually quite easy to deny, for two simple reasons: 1) Iranians on the street don't need Twitter to learn how to defend themselves against Basijis on bikes, tear gas and whatnot. Since the election tactics within the country have become very low tech and the internet is more about broadcasting what is already happening than planning. 2) The advice is in English. Switch to Persian and you will find usable information from people that are actually from Iran and thus beyond criticism (they have friends and family within the country and thus aren't just telling people what to do from a safe confine). Mohsen Sazegara's daily videos for example.

I get the gist of this article but there really isn't much that can be done from outside, besides simply following events and broadcasting (including retweeting) what is going on, and outsiders really aren't capable of provoking Iranians a great deal either way through tweets alone.

As for Ahmadinejad remaining in power - thus far it has been seven months since the election, and the Shah was still in power seven months after the first protests began (the entire revolution took a bit over a year) so it's too early to tell. Iran will resolve this eventually one way or another and Twitter will only be a footnote in the story.

Ah, one more point to make:

>If the regime was able to match information posted by someone in Iran with similar information being passed around in the US, does Shahryar think they would be forgiven?

I also disagree with this point as those that are doing the capturing and interrogation of political prisoners are not rational in the first place, and one never knows what will be used to implicate someone. The so-called "Mr. Rosewater" kept on interrogating him about his supposed connections to New Jersey of all places, and footage of him on the Daily Show was also used to try to paint him as a spy. But without the Daily Show footage they surely would have come up with something just as ludicrous and unexpected, and it isn't our job (nor is it even possible) to try to appeal to their sense of what is normal or not. If they have a case they want to make they'll make it, using anything they feel they need to make it whether high tech or low. Regular Iranians won't be spared as a result of less prolific Twitter activity.

Edit one day later: looks like the comment has been approved.

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