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.