Who else is sitting home late on a Friday night, twittering, but a mom of a small kid? I'd like to say I was out doing something tragically hip, or even out somewhere, but... this past weekend, I was at home and swapping quips on the nightly carnivalesque Burning Man For Shut-Ins called Twitter.
Half a world away, Iranians were turning out in record numbers to vote for their new president. Very rapidly, tweets among my lefty-liberalish friends began to highlight Iranian sources of news for the results of the election. (The #tcot people, or Top Conservatives on Twitter, seemed not as attuned to what was happening. Some speculations why here.)
Light chitchat turned to concern as many of the people I follow and I realized that many Iranians found serious anomalies in the way votes were counted. Very quickly, it seemed that the most helpful thing one could do as a westerner sympathetic to the goals of Iranians demanding a free and fair election, with a re-vote if necessary, was to retweet the as-it-happens tweets of Iranians, which could be viewed under the hashtag #iranelections.
As I had spotted and followed several Iranians who appeared to be students, I retweeted their usernames and their updates. I encouraged others to follow them. The Iranians tweeted reports as well as rumors of varied government responses to protests of the election (by the Basij, a civilian paramilitary force; the various factions among religious groups in charge; by the army; or by reputed Ansar-Hizbollah members brought in from Lebanon who spoke Arabic and would be willing to crush civilian Iranian dissent on behalf of Ahmadinejad's forces). They even retweeted western news sources as a check against information they were gathering on the ground.
We in the west made comparisons of this burgeoning Iranian Green Revolution to Tiananmen and to our own American "stolen elections" of '00 and '04. We thrilled at the central role an American invention--Twitter--was playing in the efforts of organizing and spreading information among the Iranians disputing the integrity of their recent election. In an acknowledgement of Twitter as one of the unofficial platforms for reformist Iranians to communicate, the State department encouraged Twitter CEOs to suspend a scheduled maintenance to a time when most Iranians would likely be asleep, as opposed to awake and organizing. And many Americans, already disgusted with the skewed priorities of their corporate news organs, used the presence of mainstream media sources on Twitter to launch a #CNNFail campaign that called out CNN's failure to provide its signature wall-to-wall coverage that previously had made its reputation during other world crises.
By way of brief recaps, here are several timelines of what has transpired since voting in Iran closed this past weekend:
From anonymous and possibly multiply-sourced unknowns, descriptive through June 16, 2009
Late last night, however, the porousness of Twitter became a bit of a liability as reports began to describe how Twitter usernames and profiles were being used by parts of the Iranian government, presumably under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's control, to find and persecute the owners.
Paranoia increased further when rumors circulated regarding fears that Israeli intelligence operatives, Iranian government officials intent on crushing dissent, or even the CIA was intervening with faked Twitter usernames. It was as if we all collectively realized that, as the body count from violent clashes between civilians and basij and other police/army elements rose, this was no longer an evening's diversion, but a truly risky endeavor for many Iranians with competing interests battling for dominance in deadly earnest. When Iranians are tweeting emergency medical procedures like what to do in the instance of a shotgun wound or tear gas attack, you realize the enormity of the people's passion and the stakes for courageous Iranian dissenters and reformers for simply taking to the streets to voice their views.
The need for caution is intense. I thought about posting a list of people who've been tweeting from Iran since Friday or Saturday (some of whom I've been following since that time), and decided not to. (Everything is always available online if you simply dig hard enough. Let the sheer vastness of data give these people some camouflage.) I've since stopped tweeting the usernames of the people in Iran I follow, but I still retweet their brief messages. I worry about the ones we haven't heard from for a while. I'm moved every time I see images of throngs of people in the streets--five MILES of people, can you imagine?
Here, however are some sites you might check if you feel compelled to follow events or help in some way, or if you have technical/web security/progamming skills to offer. Be discreet and discerning; 24 Iranian protesters have been reported dead to date, many are unaccounted for or in limbo in arrest--lives hang in the balance.
Green Revolution (tech)
In addition, we can keep pressuring U.S. media to keep covering the unrest by tweeting updates to journos on Twitter (to find some, try here or here). We can demand that American news priorities include substantial coverage of Iran. We can demand that news organizations stop using sensitive Twitter usernames of Iranians if those permissions weren't specifically granted.
In terms of scope and scale, this use of social media to voice social protest is unprecedented. It's literally unfolding as I write. I truly hope for the best of all peaceful outcomes for the people of Iran--especially for the women of Iran, for whom greater civil and human rights would mean a world of opportunities.
Cynematic blogs at P i l l o w b o o k. She's inspired and humbled by the coalition of Iranians who demand unfettered self-determination.