#Iranelection in retrospect – mass political movement or beauty contest?

31 08 2009

The global reaction to the protests in Iran is a phenomenon unparalleled on the  socio-political playing field. It has stirred involvement and passion not seen since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s in the United States, the heady days of student rebellion that led to the Tienanmen massacre in China or the anti-apartheid rebellion in South Africa, to name a few. What sets it apart from these and any other mass movement, is the global foot print it is leaving in its wake and the universal call for brotherhood it has engendered.  The aftermath of the elections in Iran  reached out and grabbed people from every walk of life, in every country, creating a new prototype for social change, moulded by the gravitational pull of the internet, most especially Twitter.

I, like a small moon circling a gas giant, was drawn into the fray, consciously and willingly at first but, ultimately, like my lunar counter-part, almost as if an automaton blindly following some law of physics.  I became totally immersed in the movement. I found myself on Twitter at the crack of dawn, retweeting every iota of information with the Iranelection hashtag. I would sweat it out for hours at a time if some special Tweeter from Iran happened to take a nap without first doing the Twitter 2-step, ie. informing us “What they were doing”,  thus leaving me in a limbo type of hell – had they been arrested… tortured… killed?  Of course, upon their return to the Twittersphere, their casualness always left me feeling like some melodramatic teenager in the throes of a first crush, blushing from my over-active imagination. Then there were the many speculations and discussions regarding the fate of other tweeters from Iran who truly had disappeared from the internet. Some people began racing to be the first to discover and publicize the actual fate of these missing tweeters. Please don’t mistake me, I am not suggesting that this wasn’t spurred by sincere concern. On the contrary it seemed that most people cared deeply but there was an underlying current almost of a competitive nature.

In addition, there was the big quest to find sources inside Iran and once such a source was secured some people tended to shroud it in secrecy, ostensibly in the name of protection for said source. We know now that all of this Twitter secrecy was a useless charade (for a more in depth discussion please see  Why RT Iran or RT From Iran Doesn’t Do What You Think It Does at Amplify’s website http://bit.ly/rfBwk ). It began to dawn on me that this so-called protection of sources’ names was lingo for “I’ve got the big carrot and I’m not gonna share it with anyone”. Anonymous retweeting provided a convenient means for some people to funnel information from Iran in a way that allowed them to become the focal point of attention. This is when I began to feel as if the movement, at least outside the borders of Iran, had begun to take on the feel of paparazzi chasing tabloid fodder.

Again, please don’t mistake me, I am not suggesting that the masses involved in sincere efforts to assist Iranian protesters in their fight against state sanctioned violence or a coup masquerading in the guise of elections, did so merely for some time-killing entertainment or love of sensationalism. On the contrary, it is evident that most tweeters, who have involved themselves in this crucially important turning point in Iran, were motivated by a sense of fellowship, shared humanity and total abhorrence for violent suppression of a people’s voice.  There exists, however, a minority of people who have used this situation for self-promotion.

There is one Tweeter in particular who causes me great concern with regard to the movement. This person has led all of her followers to believe that she is in Iran sending them information despite the risk to herself.  She was, and still is, in the UK – I checked. At one point, not having heard from her for some hours, people became very worried that she had been arrested.  She did nothing to dispossess them of their assumption about her location – an assumption which, at first glance, was totally justified since many Tweeters had changed their settings to show their location as Tehran in the mistaken belief that it would help protect the real Tweeters in Tehran. This particular Tweeter, instead of setting them straight, chose to thank everyone for their concern and assure them, very bravely, that she was safe at the moment.  I could be wrong and, frankly, I hope I am but it appeared that she was trying to insinuate herself among the ranks of people who are actually doing the tweeting from Iran. It struck me as an attempt to eke out her spot on the #Iranelection walk of fame. Regardless of her motivation, this was extremely disingenuous on her part, particularly since she had managed to carve a name for herself as one of the premier tweeters from Iran. More irksome, for me, was that she tended to tweet something in the first person as though from personal knowledge or experience, but I would subsequently discover that it was actually a copy of someone else’s tweet. This misleading behaviour calls into question the reliability of the information she disseminates (although I have noticed she rarely puts out any original information, most of her tweets are opinion as opposed to fact sharing).

In any case, I’ve had my say and asked some direct questions of this Tweeter, for which I’ve been roundly attacked by some of her closest associates. I’ve been called irresponsible, tasteless, mean, nasty, a government agent and the list goes on.  For example, as I usually do towards the end of the day, one night, during the height of the #iranelection activity, I tweeted a few quotes that I find amusing which were; “I used to be open minded but my brain kept falling out” and “Criminal lawyer is a redundancy”. One of this Tweeter’s cronies found this very insulting not only to the Tweeter in question, whom she referred to as her “BFF,” but to all of the people of Iran, despite the fact that I hadn’t given the Iranelection hashtag to the tweets. How dare I tweet such things, what help did I think I was providing #Iranelection…in fact, she went on, I was doing them (her bff and others in Iran as she put it) a huge disservice by tweeting such things.  She told me I had fallen and I was losing people. Normally, I would have jauntily written this off to the fact that there is always going to be someone who dislikes what you say, but this time I couldn’t because she wasn’t alone. Many people were outraged by my questioning of this revered Tweeter. I don’t get it. When I suggested to one of this angry mob that we owed it to people to verify our sources before disseminating information which was why I was questioning this Tweeter, that galled her even more. “We,” she responded in a huff, “speak for yourself. I totally trust this person.”  In response I told her that it was incumbent upon each one of us to ensure that we were spreading facts and not fiction otherwise we would be no better than the corrupt government which has stolen the election. Again, this incensed her further because I had the gall to suggest any similarity between Ahmadinejad and the Tweeter. At which point I gave up.

I changed my avatar back to its original ridiculous picture.  I changed my location back to Toronto, and I took a hiatus from the whole #Iranelection phenomenon. I don’t feel less passionately for the people who are truly struggling in Iran, who are so courageously standing up to a corrupt and violent government. I don’t consider their need to keep the lines of communication flowing between their overly monitored existence and the outside world any less urgent.  But I do consider that these lines of communication are becoming hijacked by certain people who have their own agenda which, while maybe parallel to that of the Iranian protesters, is not as clearly defined or trustworthy. If a person, who is deceptive about their own location or sources of information, has risen to prominence as a leading spokesperson on Twitter for this movement then how are we to trust any of the millions of tweets that issue forth every day purportedly from Iran.

The situation in Iran and the means of keeping the world engaged cannot evolve along the lines of a popularity or beauty contest. The people who took exception to my questioning of this particular Tweeter responded on a very personal level, much as though I had insulted their favourite pop star. It was shocking to me.  If people choose to put their total trust in someone without question, without confirming sources or verifying background, that is their prerogative/problem. Unfortunately, it will be the people of Iran, not the tweeters like the one I have high-lighted here and her cronies, who will pay the price for poorly sourced information. Anything that is put out there which is motivated by ego or quest for popularity will ultimately not impact on Tweeters outside of Iran in any serious or meaningful way but it could jeopardize genuine protesters in Iran.

In any case, I feel that I have done my share. I am taking a hiatus. The Twitter effect vis-a-vis the Iranian election/protest has gone down a very foreign road. It has evolved from a world movement, a collective participation of citizens from every county in peaceful demonstration against autocracy, government sanctioned violence and bureaucratic/political deceit through real time communication as provided by Twitter. It has evolved into a beauty contest of sorts where egos and popularity take precedence over truth and objectives – at least for some of those taking part in the process outside of Iran. But this minority is having an impact on the entire process due to their disproportionate presence. Those who don’t believe that verifying sources or checking backgrounds of people who they purport to fully trust don’t really understand what this entire phenomenon is about yet they are changing its nature nonetheless.

Let me emphatically state, however, that I still believe that those who truly are in Iran, are motivated by very different objectives and circumstances. It is their country and not only their way of life but their very lives that are at stake. Outside of Iran the processing and moving of information seems to have become a past-time for some as opposed to an urgent need to act as a medium for those in Iran desperate to share and receive information that would, otherwise, be blocked. What began as a noble cause seems to have devolved into a tool for some seeking to further their own personal goals. What is most frightening about this turn of events is that it so perfectly fits into the gossip-mongering, tabloid fodder that devours good and bad movements alike. Iranian people need the rest of the world now to stay the course along with them. We cannot allow ourselves to become mired in personal mud-slinging or superficial idol worship and we have to stay alert to solid, dependable information. If this means asking tough questions so be it. We would expect no less of others if the shoe were on the other foot. So let’s dig deep and find what is best in ourselves and our technology to truly support the Green movement in Iran.

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7 responses

1 09 2009
General Hamzeh

If this is supposed to be about OxFord Girl, she/he always said she was safe, that she was a journalist and that she got her information from sources in Iran. Everytime there was a panic she would tell people not to worry she was ‘In a safe place”. Some posts even said ‘they can’t reach me here’. Her information was always confirmed – often days later – by the BBC, CNN etc.

It was the nature of the protests that they needed to get info out to people who would then get it to all the right people.

If you have truely confirmed who or what Oxford Girl is then you will know the regime have been after them since 1994, a little longer in terms of dedication I think than someone on Twitter for a few weeks.

4 09 2009
Michelle Matthews

The regime must have pretty poor resources if they haven’t been able to find them since 1994 and I was able to locate them in no time at all. On top of which it would not have been particularly revealing for this person to have simply and honestly said that they were safe since they weren’t in Iran instead of lapping up the hero-worship that they clearly instigated through their deception. In any case, my blog was not about OxfordGirl’s dedication to the Iran movement. In fact, I never named OxfordGirl. My blog was about the disingenuous way in which some tweeters present themselves and how that makes me question the veracity of their tweets.

24 02 2010
Rev. Magdalen

So let me get this straight. You started out participating in a worthy cause, and you were very dedicated. Kudos to you for that.

Then, you had some personal issues with some of the other people helping the cause. You felt they weren’t living up to your ideal of what an activist should be. They had human failings. They enjoyed adulation. They may have even deliberately promoted themselves so they could be more popular among the few hundred people dedicated to this cause on Twitter. And you found that intolerable, so you quit. Fine.

But now you want to chastise the people who DIDN’T quit, because you want them to think that you weren’t just being selfish and spoiled, you had a good reason for quitting. So you made sure to promote yourself and your blog in the activist hashtag, so everyone will take time out of fighting for Iran to pay attention to you.

Meanwhile, Iranians are still being tortured every day. I’m sure when we tell them about how you wanted to help them, but the other users were just too rude for you to stand being around, they’ll understand. They’ll say, “Oh please, by all means preserve your comfort and tranquility! What is our freedom compared to someone being rude to you on the internet! We couldn’t possibly ask you to suck it up and put up with rude people in order to help us ”

Why don’t you just be honest. You are far more concerned with how people treat YOU, personally, and how you stack up, socially, against peers, than with the Iranian people. Don’t pretend that you want to “stay the course along with them.” You obviously don’t give a crap about them. Do you even know how many people have died since you “gave up”? If you do happen to know, you can thank an activist who didn’t give up and got that information out to the world.

14 03 2010
Michelle Matthews

I can either thank an activist who didn’t give up for those deaths or I can blame them for posting information without verifying its accuracy and legitimacy. I’d rather err on the side of caution when it comes to peoples’ lives.

28 02 2010
General Hamzeh

You leave out that Oxfordgirl has appeared on the BBC, The Guardian and CNN not only saying she is not in Iran, but being filmed somewhere which is clearly not Iran. One wonder just who you might be and why you would make such pointless observations.

1 03 2010
Jamshid

We think that many of the tweters on twitter, #iranelection, & #sog are paid or fake profiles created by a few people.
We think that Austin Heap, Oxfordgirl, Tehranweekly, Jshahryar, PersianKiwi, Onlymehdi, and many other tweeters are all working as a group. We think that the Haystack project which they are constantly trying to raise money for is a dangerous scam which does not help anybody inside Iran. I know that you don’t know me from adam. But I have been involved in the struggle for democracy in Iran since 2001.
The reason we even started investigating this situation is because of their lies and slander about our group. They have threatened my life. Urge me to commit suicide and try to destroy my credibility. All we want is democracy for Iran. We have no other objective.
We believe that what you are witnessing is a political project financed by a PR firm who is working on behalf of Reza Pahlavi, MKO, and Maryam Rajavi. MKO is a known terrorist organization and is listed with the State Department.
If anybody can shed more light on the details of this project. Please call 202-509-0933 in the United States. Ask for Jamshid. You can find more information about our experiences and read comments on this matter at the following link:
http://iran115.org/blacklist
Thank you
Jamshid
formerly iran115 on twitter
Now suspended for mysterious reasons.
I sent three tweets to three people saying”follow me” and they suspended our account.
I was known for fighting against the regime but also warning people of this dangerous group on twitter. I feel now more than ever that they are very bad and unethical people. I really hope I get my account reinstated.
I was even thinking of going on a hunger strike in front of twitter offices.
But… that may be a little drastic.
The group on twitter started creating false accounts as a satire and I think twitter thinks it is us.
They are really nasty people.
I need helpp please.
Jamshid
202-509-0933

14 03 2010
Jamshid

Update. Twitter says they suspended us for using buzzom to grow our network. They did not mention buzzom by name. But it was the only automation tool we were using. Thank goodness we were reinstated.
I have emailed buzzom for comment but no response yet. Seems like many others use it without suspention.
And Oxfordgirl and the gang are still up to their old tricks.

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