Waking up every day and being a journalist is a very conflicting job. Sometimes, you read the work of other journalists who’ve written responsibly and with full knowledge of the subject matter and you feel proud of who you are. Other times, people write things that make you want to just sit there and mourn the fact that he or she belongs to the same profession as you. When I read such things, I understand why people have lost their respect for and trust in modern-day journalists.
One such piece was Will Heaven’s critique of the people on Twitter who have been active for the cause of Iran for almost 200 days now in a blog for the online edition of Britain’s Daily Telegraph under the headline, “Iran and Twitter: the fatal folly of the online revolutionaries”. Don’t get me wrong, he has freedom of speech on his side. But every now and then, I take the liberty to use the same right to point out fellow journalists for filling the internet with junk that is not only misrepresenting the truth, but also blatantly insults not only our intelligence, but also ourselves. I thought Will Heaven fits that bill quite neatly.
I’m simply going to use my old method of replying to his paragraphs one by one in order. I have not changed any of his words and for the sake of simplicity, I will address him directly.
“As young men and women took to the streets of Tehran on Sunday to confront the Revolutionary Guard, another very different protest sprang to life all over the world. This one didn’t face tear-gas or gunfire. And its participants didn’t risk prison, torture or death. It took place on 2009’s most trendy website: Twitter.com.”
Well, how is the risk of having your family imprisoned, tortured or killed? Did you know that dozens of social media activists have families in Iran and dozens more have received emails from the Iranian government telling them to stop or else their families would face serious harm? Did you know that Fereshteh Ghazi, another activist who writes about prisoners, also has her family in Iran as well? Did you know that one of the most active of the Twitterati, Mehdi Saharkhiz’ father Isa Saharkhiz is in prison and being tried in connection with the protests?
I think everyone would agree that even if people aren’t personally facing imprisonment, torture and death, their families facing the same peril is scary enough to force one to give them a huge round of applause for having the courage to stick to what they’re doing. The fact that you didn’t know this or chose to ignore it is something that I’m not going comment on. Next time, make sure you include these facts before you try to belittle them.
“For Twitter enthusiasts, this has been a bumper year. With a new online tool at their chubby fingertips, they’ve helped to change the world. Or at least, that’s what they think: the so-called Iranian Twitter Revolution recently won a Webby award for being “one of the top 10 internet moments of the decade”.”
Chubby fingertips? Nice use of the common stereotype that portrays all geeks as being overweight. This here is just a direct insult. I’m not sure how you manage to call yourself a journalist and use such degrading language to get your fictitious points across. As for the Iranian Twitter Revolution, that’s just a creation of the mainstream media who are ignorant of what is going on inside and outside Iran.
The protests in Iran are turning into a revolution, however, social networking websites had very little to do with it. The reason why they are getting kudos is because they helped people bypass the failure of the mainstream media to cover the events in Iran and get informed about what was really happening on the streets of Tehran as well as shore up outside support for the cause.
Get this straight; it was your failure to provide timely and accurate news regarding the events in Iran that forced the citizens of the world to step up and help educate people about the courage and perseverance of the Iranian people and the brutality and inhumanity of the Iranian government. You can whine all you want, but you have failed. And the fact that you failed does not give you the right to attempt and devalue the work of others.
“Let me tell you why I find that deeply troubling. There has been no revolution in Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has held on to power after a rigged election. Meanwhile, protests continue to be violently suppressed by government forces and unregulated militias, with human rights groups saying that at least 400 demonstrators have been killed since June. Dozens of those arrested remain unaccounted for, and many of those set free tell of rape and vicious beatings in Iran’s most notorious prisons.
So don’t tell me that Twitter and other online networks have improved the situation in Iran. It’s deluded to think that “hashtags”, “Tweets” and “Twibbons” have threatened the regime for a second. If all the internet could muster in a decade was smug armchair activists and pontificating techies, we may as well all log off in the New Year.”
Again, Twitter has not improved the situation in Iran; it has improved the flow of news about that situation to the outside world. And, it has helped mobilize activists outside Iran into protesting across the world to pressure the international community into taking action against the Iranian government. The only one claiming that is you and your compatriots in mainstream media.
If you’d followed the news or understood what you’ve read, you would have known about the July 25th protests where thousands of people gathered in more than 100 cities across the globe in support of the Iranian people’s struggle for human rights. There have been dozens of protests in dozens of other cities since. I attended one just a week ago. These protests have served to both inform the public and to pressure governments to deal with Iran’s repression of its citizens more harshly then they might have otherwise would have.
This would not have been possible if social networking websites had not connected people and informed them about what was going on inside Iran; because frankly, all I see the mainstream media being interested in is Iran’s nuclear energy program. So again, your ignorance does not change the facts on the ground. Your rants against geeks only highlight your own prejudice. It does not downplay their massive role in achieving the goals I just mentioned.
“Here’s the other thing “social media experts” will forget to tell you: dictatorships across the world now use their own tools to hunt down online protesters. In Iran, for instance, the government controls the internet with a nationalised communications company. Using a state-of-the-art method called “Deep Packet Inspection”, data packages sent between protesters are now automatically broken down, checked for keywords, and reconstructed within milliseconds. Every Tweet and Facebook message, in other words, is firmly on the regime’s radar.
As a result, the crackdown in Iran has been easier than ever before. Once the Revolutionary Guard intercept a suspect message, they are able to pinpoint the location of a guilty protester using their computer’s IP address. Then it’s just a question of knocking on doors – and confiscating laptops and PCs for hard evidence.
Sadly, when this happens, those outside Iran cannot always absolve themselves of responsibility. If you’re an internet user in Britain who communicates with an Iranian protester online, or encourages them to send anti-regime messages over the internet, you could be putting their life in danger.”
Here’s a bit of education in anti-filtering software. There’s a software called Tor – similar to Freegate – that allows people to connect to the internet without fear of Deep Pocket Inspection tools. You can figure out that someone is using Tor with DPI, but you can never find out what they’re sending. Our ‘chubby-fingered’ friends were intelligent and passionate enough to get that into Iranian hands as early as June. And that’s not it. Net activists have already created several new anti-DPI softwares that have already reached Iranians and are being skillfully used by a select few to get information out. With these, the government can’t even figure out if someone is using anti-filtering software or is connected straight up.
If that were not true, you wouldn’t get all these videos, pictures and other information about Iran so readily available within minutes of protests from Iran. Just because you don’t know about these things, does not mean they don’t exist or they don’t work.
And contrary to what you claim, no one actually has to encourage Iranians to communicate information about Iran to the outside world. They do it themselves. They feel a need to help the world understand what is going on in their country and not just have to read fear-mongering articles on the mainstream media about how Iran is going to bomb Israel and there’d be World War III and such. What the techies have done is help them access the software that allows them to do it without fear of getting arrested.
“There’s nothing wrong with spreading awareness outside Iran, but it’s horribly naive to think that supporting illegal activity in a foreign country has no ethical dimension. It’s equally foolish, of course, to kid yourself that you’re on the front line.
For the Iranian authorities, the detective work often doesn’t have to be remotely hi-tech. As Evgeny Morozov recently noted, it is now possible to calculate a person’s sexual orientation by analysing who their Facebook friends are. Sure, it’s a quirky news story in Britain, but terrifying for gay people living in countries such as Iran, where homosexuality is outlawed.”
Illegal activity? What illegal activity? Iranians are granted the right to take to streets and peacefully protest by the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Just because the government is overstepping Iranian law does not mean you have to go out of your way to accommodate their will in order to hammer home your fallacious arguments. As for your assertion that helping them spread the word about the situation is wrong, then you should know that freedom of expression is a universal human right. No country’s laws can infringe upon that – and I mean none.
I’m not sure you know that Facebook and Twitter are officially banned in Iran right now. People in Iran who are using the two applications have created accounts specifically to disseminate news and information – not for dating. Even if the government finds those accounts, it won’t be able to trace them back to their owners because of the softwares I mentioned above.
“Perhaps Barack Obama was one of the first world leaders to realise that social media have their limits. In March, on the feast of Nowruz (the Farsi New Year), he posted an online video in which he addressed the Iranian people and their leaders directly.
It signaled the launch of “YouTube diplomacy”, one commentator gushed. But, like the Twitter Revolution, it has achieved very little – Iran remains determined to become a nuclear power, and America is still described by the regime as “the Great Satan”.”
As explained before, the Twitter Revolution is strictly about reporting and activist event planning. As for the YouTube diplomacy jab, that was another creation of the same fickle media that knows little about what’s going on during protests out on the streets in daylight with video evidence at hand, but is more than ready to scare the hell out of everyone by proclaiming that Iran will get the ability to make a nuke soon even though all of Iran’s nuclear energy installations are deep underground with scarcely anyone allowed to inspect what happens there.
Please, write up a piece chronicling the failures of the same industry you are associated with before coming up with ludicrous and unfounded accusations against others.
“So what can we do? Well, perhaps that’s a question for 2010, because the internet, combined with “offline” networks, probably can encourage openness in dictatorships. But before we work out how, let’s first drop the self-congratulation.”
That final assertion is just laughable. What can you do? You can actually report after researching the subject you are about to write on. You can find sources inside Iran to get some real news out. And you can stop hurling insults at will. Finally, we don’t need to self-congratulate ourselves. The media does it for us quite neatly. I will point you to just one article about the Twitter Revolution published a few days ago in one of Sweden’s largest tabloid newspapers, Expressen:
“Today Mousavis Facebook page [a page run by activists from outside Iran] is a more secure source of news than Al-Jazeera and the BBC, while micro-blogs and websites like the dailyniteowl.com and rahesabz.net [both websites that use direct information from tweets and Facebook] offer sympathizers as well as media consumers, fast, reliable news [about Iran] that traditional newsrooms cannot provide.”
That is just one out of hundreds of articles that have been published about the worldwide effort to help get the reality on Iran’s streets to people around the globe through social networking websites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and through microblogs. I understand your frustration at having to keep up with citizen reporting. But that does not give you the right to so flagrantly distort facts and insult a mass of people that have devoted their own time without any monetary compensation to helping their brothers and sisters in Iran.
Next time, if you’re going to write on this subject, please, inform yourself about the many terms you used and try to show the real picture. Your failure at complying with journalistic standards is not going to go unanswered anymore.