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June 16, 2009

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"Join a noble cause in a foreign land by...sending a twitter!" It's a far cry from Catalonia and the International Brigades...

Snark aside, I'm not sure what a bunch of distant foreigners are supposed to say to help these kids, other than urging them on, giving them the impression that the whole world is watching and a false sense of invulnerability, hopefully not with tragic results. Have we all forgotten the last time a group of Shia were told by Americans to rise up against the oppressor? Instead it seems like a natural extension of Rafsanjani's awe-inspiringly good PR and mobilisation campaign, although I remain skeptical that Rafsanjani and Mousavi are a crew worth getting clubbed around the ear for.

I guess I just find this armchair-neocon, outsourced-revolution stuff a bit distasteful.

you're turning into grandpa simpson, you realize.

but on the merits, i guess i disagree with the analogy. unlike the shia uprising, the entire thing is happening without the expectation that the US will help (indeed, they're HOPING that).

as for the merits of the parties, i think the issue isn't so much the greatest of one result or the other, but the rottenness of the PROCEDURE.

And as for doing this stuff b/c it makes you feel good, i mean, i guess i plead guilty. i don't think it makes it a bad thing to do though. i don't see how it hurts to, say, change your twitter location if it helps mask some Iranian bloggers. it's a tiny tiny thing, with no real effect i guess. But so is working at a soup kitchen. it's not wrong just b/c it makes you happy to do, right?

NYT Lede is saying that flooding the twittersphere with false Tehran locales is going to seriously impede the media's ability to place any trust in whether the twitterer is actually there or not.

discuss.

you're turning into grandpa simpson, you realize.

probably true, I'm stuck writing from dusk 'til dawn these days, and flick over here occasionally to vent steam.

Terminator Salvation still beats Star Trek though.

Rweaver: On what basis was the media placing that trust before? It's the easiest thing in the world to falsify, even more so than anything on the regular Internet, and people like telling stories.

Hob - I agree fully, I've been saying that all along. I'm embarrassed for people like Andrew Sullivan, whose emotional investment seems inversely proportionate to his store of reasonably credible informationa. "Hey, lookie here! I found this graph that proves the election was a fraud! Look, the line is straight and everything! Wheeeeeeeee!"

Byrningman: I don't have a problem with Sullivan's emotional investment so much as his total lack of understanding that the justness of a cause is not a basis for evaluating every single thing someone might say about that cause. In his mind, everything he reads or says in the context of expressing support for Iranian protesters is, by definition, right. Corollary: anyone who has a problem with any of the things Sully is reading or saying is by definition an opposer of the just cause. Sully himself has to his credit mostly avoided that corollary (*), but that hasn't stopped some of his more vocal fans who are currently scolding everyone in blog comments. If he says "I shall learn to fart Moussavi's name in Morse Code - they asked us to do it on Twitter - SHOW THEM YOU CARE" and you say "But Andrew I don't see how that is supposed to work", there are people ready to tell you that you're a cynical nitpicker who hates the protesters.

(* And I'm only giving him credit for this on the current subject. It's really hard to forget about his past "fifth column" b.s.)

It's kind of reminiscent of "SUPPORT THE TROOPS" of course-- but it reminds me more of an acquaintance who periodically forwards emails along the lines of "OMG did you know there's a research lab that's closing and they're going to gas all their animals? Call this number now to save the animals!" And it's an easily debunked urban legend every dang time; but if you suggest that her efforts against animal cruelty might be better served by some attention to facts, and that "call this number now" emails only ever serve to jam up the phone of some poor schmuck who has nothing to do with anything, the response is "Well some of us care about animals and think it's worth spreading the word about these things, just in case one of them is true. Sorry you don't care about animals," etc.

It's not so much about what is an appropriate level of skepticism-- more that if one starts out with the attitude that anyone who questions you is really undermining the cause you support and all the worthy people related to it, and that this must be due to apathy or evil, then one has just thrown skepticism and critical thinking out of one's toolbox for good (or, you might say, taken them off the table).

Would Tiananmen Square have ended differently if Twitter had been around?

Snark aside, I'm not sure what a bunch of distant foreigners are supposed to say to help these kids, other than urging them on, giving them the impression that the whole world is watching and a false sense of invulnerability, hopefully not with tragic results. Have we all forgotten the last time a group of Shia were told by Americans to rise up against the oppressor? Instead it seems like a natural extension of Rafsanjani's awe-inspiringly good PR and mobilisation campaign, although I remain skeptical that Rafsanjani and Mousavi are a crew worth getting clubbed around the ear for.

Yes. Clearly, Iranians are incapable of making the decision to risk their lives on their own. Clearly, they derive a sense of invulnerability from foreign bloggers, rather than looking at the people who have already died. Clearly, they are incapable of deciding for themselves whether Moussavi is enough of a change to be worth being beaten for.

How much more condescending could you get?

"It's the easiest thing in the world to falsify, even more so than anything on the regular Internet, and people like telling stories."

I have been quick to lament the death of newspapers and the shrinking world of professional journalism in general, the loss of sourced and attributed news accounts.

Citizen journalism is a fine complement to old-school news. What we are seeing coming out of Iran is raw and inspiring and interactive.

But when citizen journalism becomes our main source of news, it will be people telling stories and the stories will be more biased than ever and the truth will be harder and harder to measure.

How much more condescending could you get?

Well, in your case, a whole lot more. They're young, they're en masse, they're scared, they're passionate. You're obviously not familiar with the history of mass protests, insurgencies, revolutions and so forth if you think press reports and world opinion don't have an impact on group psychology. Heard of Tiananmen Square? Hint, it was full of young kids who knew quite well what kind of government they had, but their numbers, the foreign reporters flowing among them, and the idea that they were caught up in something bigger got them driven over by tanks.

As for Mousavi, do you even know who he and Rafsanjani are? Had you heard of them until the last few weeks, before they suddenly started appearing in the English language press with the epithet 'reformer' ubiquitously appended to their names? I doubt it, because they've been around for a very long time, and no one ever called them that before.

This is a battle between two clans of the Iranian elite, if there was a substantive degree of difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi on the fundamental issues, the latter wouldn't have been in the election in the first place.

You wonder why I fear for the young people protesting there right now? Do you know what happened to young people in Iran in the 1980s, when Mousavi was PM, after they got them all stirred up and filled with a head full of nonsense?

"NYT Lede is saying that flooding the twittersphere with false Tehran locales is going to seriously impede the media's ability to place any trust in whether the twitterer is actually there or not. "

The mainstream media already doesn't trust twitterers enough to easily rely on them, so the pluses well outweigh the minuses.

As for Mousavi, do you even know who he and Rafsanjani are? Had you heard of them until the last few weeks, before they suddenly started appearing in the English language press with the epithet 'reformer' ubiquitously appended to their names? I doubt it, because they've been around for a very long time, and no one ever called them that before.

Yes, actually, I do know who they are. My sixth grade teacher was an Iranian exile, and I was a sixth grader in 1980-81, so we talked about Iran a lot. I learned earlier than most that Saddam Hussein was no one to be rooting for, even if he did attack our enemies. I've had an interest in Iran ever since.

I've followed the career of Ali Akbar Hoshemi Rafsanjani since the mid 1980s. Moussavi was a name I recognized, but I didn't know much about him until more recently. Rafsanjani has very definitely been called a reformer before. For a couple of decades now, he has lived in a space between the regime and its opponents, sometimes siding with one, sometimes the other.

They are absolutely reformers. They are not particularly liberal, but there are many things about the regime they would like to change. More importantly, and even more so after the last week, they are unlikely to violently suppress protesters of things go beyond what they really want. In this sense, the best comparison is Mikhail Gorbachev, a man who was thoroughly a part of the Communist system, and one whose desired reforms didn't really go all that far, but when the moment came, refused to call out the tanks.

Even just the platform Moussavi ran on would be a tremendous improvement. Letting the ethnic minorities learn their own languages in school. Allowing much wider scope for freedom of expression.

We also have a disagreement about the fundamental desirability of the protests overall. You are primarily concerned with no one getting hurt. I am primarily concerned with supporting those who have made the decision to risk that. You quote Tiananmen Square. I'll come back with the creation of Solidarity in 1979. The next year, the Polish government cracked down with more brutality than anything Iran has shown so far, and crushed them. Regardless, what the Poles did in that year was unquestionably a good thing. They paid a price for it, to be sure, but the Gdansk shipyards are now a shrine to that movement. Ask around, and you aren't going to find very many Poles, including those involved and who paid that price, that will argue that it was not worth it.

You don't overthrow tyrannical governments without taking risks. I would never tell someone that they should take to the streets, because it's not my place to assess those risks for them. If they do, though, I sure as hell am not going to criticize. I will do what I can to support them, because they are risking a lot, and it's in a good cause. What we have seen this weekend his been inspiring. I desperately hope that this is 1989, and not 1980, but there is no hope of change without it.

Dear Publius: What you suggest is good advice. but a bit moot on my part. I've never bothered to sign up for Twitter. Yes, I know, I'm shamefully primitive! And, I STILL have to figure out how to link articles or sources to comments of mine. Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa! (Smiles)

Would it be dumb of me to ask how relevant your suggestions are to most of us? After all, how many of us know Farsi, or how many Iranians know English?

But by no means do I wish anyone to compromise the safety of any Iranians he or she may be in contact with.

Sincerely,

Let's compromise and agree not to call this cyberwar, OK? We all sneered at the 101st chairborne in the run-up to Iraq, and the same applies here: don't conflate whatever excitement we feel with the genuine risks taken by millions of Iranians on the streets of Tehran and other major Iranian cities.

John, I agree. This is not "Cyberwar" or even IW (Information Warfare), this is assisting the dissemination of information from a hostile locale without unintentionally placing the people on the ground in further danger.

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