UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 18, 2009

THE REVOLUTION IS NOT 14O CHARACTERS LONG

Wired - Before we all have a collective Twittergasm about the short-messaging service's use in Iran, let's breathe for a second. Yes, it's useful; yes, it's great for following the events here in the U.S.; yes, it might one day be a driving tool for revolution. But it's an overstatement to call it "the medium of the movement," as Time did.

We have no idea how many Tweets are spreading through RSS, Facebook pages, and text-messages. Nor do we know how info gets into every Twitter feed. But there's evidence that the reach of some of the most prominent Iranian Green Revolution Tweeters may not be as great as it first appears. For example, many of the Iranian tweeters described in the Western press seem to have between 10,000 and 30,000 followers. That's a lot; but Ashton Kutcher it ain't. And many of those followers are in the U.S. Check out @Change_for_Iran, @persiankiwi, @StopAhmadi, @persiankiwi, or @mousavi1388 and you'll see a lot of American names. At least in the first few pages, it seems to be about a third who are clearly in the U.S.

English-language tweeters of course have English-language followers. But Twitter isn't set up to make Farsi use easy (for example, you can't search for Farsi posts in the language section of Twitter's advanced search feature). In fact, the always helpful Nancy Scola has done a search on Twitter of all users who have listed their location as within 250 miles of Tehran. One interesting result: there are posts there only in Spanish, German, and English.

This afternoon, I emailed UCSD professor Babak Rahimi, the author of "Internet & Politics in Post-revolutionary Iran" and someone who is in Tehran right now covering the events. I asked what he thought of my hunch that we in the Western press are over-hyping the impact of Twitter. Here's what he said:

"I very much agree with you. The Twitter factor is present, but not as significant as, say, cell phone or social networking sites… [granted, it's hard to separate these out -- nms] I just wonder (or worry) how the U.S. media is projecting its own image of Iran into what is going here on the ground."

Charting Stocks - Anyone using Twitter over the past few days knows that the topic of the Iranian election has been the most popular. Thousands of tweets and retweets alleging that the election was a fraud, calling for protests in Iran, and even urging followers hack various Iranian news websites (which they did successfully. . .

Were these legitimate Iranian people or the works of a propaganda machine? I became curious and decided to investigate the origins of the information. In doing so, I narrowed it down to a handful of people who have accounted for 30,000 Iran related tweets in the past few days. Each of them had some striking similarities:

1. They each created their twitter accounts on Saturday June 13th.

2. Each had extremely high number of Tweets since creating their profiles.

3. "IranElection" was each of their most popular keyword

4. With some very small exceptions, each were posting in English.

5. Half of them had the exact same profile photo

6. Each had thousands of followers, with only a few friends. Most of their friends were each other.

Why were these tweets in English? Why were all of these profiles obsessed with Iran? It became obvious that this was the work of a team of people with an interest in destabilizing Iran. . .

I narrowed the spammers down to three of the most persistent - @StopAhmadi @IranRiggedElect @Change_For_Iran

I decided to do a google search for two of the three. The first page to come up was Jerusalem Post which is a right wing pro-Israeli newspaper.

JPost actually ran a story about [how] three people “who joined the social network mere hours ago have already amassed thousands of followers.” Why would a news organization post a story about 3 people who just joined twitter hours earlier? . . . JPost was the first (and only to my knowledge) major news source that mentioned these 3 spammers. . .

These twitting spammers began crying foul before the final votes were even counted, just as Mousavi had. The spammer @IranRiggedElect created his profile before a winner was announced and preformed the public service of informing us in the United States, in English and every 10 minutes, of the unfair election. He did so unselfishly, and without any regard for his fellow friends and citizens of Iran, who don’t speak English and don’t use Twitter/

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