Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Words of June:Beginning

June 19. At Friday morning religious services Ayatollah Khameini addressed his nation. He declared the results of the presidential election as 'legitimate' and cautioned that protests would 'no longer be tolerated.' Tehran was already teetering on the verge of chaos. Angry students and supporters of Mousavi were taking to the streets in ever increasing numbers and fervor, demanding that the results of the June election be overturned and Mir Mousavi be declared the winner. In response, riot police and Basij deployed to the streets in even greater numbers. The stage was potentially set for a second Iranian revolution.
Media coverage of the events in Iran was touch and go. Western news agencies especially, were relying on 'direct reports' from the demonstrators in Tehran, who were using text messaging, Twitter and even Facebook to get descriptions, video and photographs to the outside world. The Iranian government was slow to respond and for a while it appeared that Twitter was going to be the weapon that carried the day for the protesters. CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews and nearly every other Western media outlet were all glued to Twitter, monitoring the Tweets coming out of Tehran and reporting them. Journalists around the globe were showering praise on Twitter for aiding the effort of the pro-Mousavi demonstrators.
Like the rest of the world, I was watching the events in Iran closely. I was also following the tweets supposedly coming from protesters in Tehran. Twitter was the hotbed of support for the Iranian protesters. Tweets and re-tweets burned up cyberspace with talk of protests being organized, questions about specific protesters and their whereabouts, and a list of the foreign embassies willing to take in wounded protesters, just to name a handful of topics. And of course, there were rumors. Rumors of high ranking Iranian government officials coming out in support of Mousavi, of Republican Guard units refusing to enter the city and crush the protests, and reports that a general strike was being planned. These all circulated throughout Twitter. Many of these claims were not being reported in the mainstream media. As time went on, it was increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I was quite reluctant to believe most of the claims on Twitter, or the sources of the information. Their authenticity was very suspect. Names suich as Persiankiwi and Oxfordgirl were well known across Twitter at this point as people who were on the ground in Tehran and reporting despite the dangers. Who was to say that the people claiming to be in Tehran were actually there? Who was to say that their reports were authentic? They could just as easily be Iranian government agents posing as protesters, or, more likely, simply folks elsewhere playing games.
Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people on Twitter were tuning in, absorbing the 'news from Tehran' and offering their support.....without any hard evidence. I didn't think it could be so easy to influence people. I mean, yes, this was Twitter and the internet, and one must always be careful, but I simply could not fathom how thousands of people were blindly believing and passing along the words of others without any proof. People could not be that foolish, right?
Well, I had to find out for my own. My strategy was simple: create a handle, go on twitter, come across as a somewhat pro-Iranian government person and see what develops. The most difficult part appeared to be creating a name for Twitter. I wanted the handle to be somewhat light in the hopes that most people would eventually realize I wasn't openly supporting the Islamic Republic. After some consideration, I came up with what I thought would be an appropriate name: EyeranProtestr.
It took a few minutes to create the profile and fill in the necessary information. On June 20th, EyeranProtestr was born and the journey commenced.
I was not prepared for where it would take me, or what I would learn about people, twitter, the internet, and most importantly, about myself as a result.