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<nettime> The Revolution Will Bypass Your Filters
Naeem Mohaiemen on Thu, 18 Jun 2009 18:40:04 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The Revolution Will Bypass Your Filters

This was published in today's main Bangladesh newspaper.

The Revolution Will Bypass Your Filters
Naeem Mohaiemen

DailyStar, June 17, 2009

"Tiananmen + Twitter  = Tehran"
- Facebook status line

Sometime on June 12th, the official news is announced: "Landslide for
Ahmadinejad". Then, just as quickly, other news starts coming out, louder,
drowning out the state machine. Data analysis showing votes between Mousavi
and Ahmadinejad, as announced in six waves, in a correlation ratio of 0.995,
a statistical near-impossibility. Professor Mebane's analysis, showing 9
locations with abnormal outliers. Results  that defy political alignments
(Mousavi losing in Tehran, which is flashpoint for anti-Ahmadinejad vote),
ethnic loyalties (Azeri candidate Mousavi losing in Azeri capital Tabriz,
Lur candidate Mehdi Karoubilosing in Luristan) and demographic shifts
(young, women, first-time voters).

So far, all this is familiar. Election fraud stretches from Pakistan to
Burma to our near and far, Southern and Northern neighbors. Sometimes
outrage over stolen elections is large enough to topple the government and
force a re-election (Bangladesh). But other times, protests fade as the
government waits until protestors are exhausted (Mexico).

June 13th to 16th, the attrition confrontation plays out differently. In
1968, protestors against the Vietnam war fought Chicago police and chanted
at TV cameras "the whole world is watching". In 2009, the whole world is
watching online, 24/7. The stage for Iranian activists are the streets, but
also Twitter-Facebook-Flickr-Blogspot, and the censors can't stop any of it.
As the Bangladesh government discovered after blocking YouTube, censorship
isn't what it used to be. Just as we used proxy sites to get to YouTube
(until our government gave up), Iranians are using anonymizers like
Torproject.org. An Iranian tells The Independent: "The regime, can block
Facebook today but they can't do it forever."

>From the moment the Mousavi protestors hit the streets, Reddit, Digg,
Flickr, LiveLeak, Facebook are flooded with links. Basij thugs beat
protestors, and within minutes Youtube 's Mousavi1388 channel ("Iranian
professionals and students") has the mobile phone video online. Nothing is
outside the camera frame. On my news feed, I see a link to protestors'
"appeal to the world" reflected on eight accounts. Then sixteen, then
twenty. First Iranian friends, then larger circles-- shared activism spreads
in concentric circles. A campaign convinces Facebook users to change their
icons to green to show support. All surfaces are overwhelmed by this

With so much data pushing through pipes, aggregators are pulling feeds
together to find things quickly. Google is sub-optimal in this moment,
because it's searches are algorithm driven. Aggregation sites Demotix,
Global Voices, Tehran Bureau, Memeorandum are all running Google-like
summaries of protest news. These are more effective because they are
personal, editorialized collections. Crowd-sourced, human links beat
algorithm pulls.

Dominating the net media is Twitter. 160 character burst messages sent from
mobile phones, the twitterverse is most effective for instant information.
Hash threads like #iranelection and #iran allow us to track anyone who sends
messages with those tags. I look at the feed and it says: 12,138 updates
since your last refresh. But my last refresh was a few minutes ago! The
volume is so overwhelming that aggregators are taking the best of twitter
and re-tweeting. Iran.twazzup.com, Tweetscan, Twitterfall, TwitPic, a family
of "best of" tools.

The Iranian state is getting desperate, and tries to throttle internet
traffic, block SMS flow, scramble satellite TV feeds. But every few seconds
there is a twitter giving new proxy addresses that can be accessed from
inside Iran. Even with net speed down to a crawl, activists keep pushing
information through. We will bypass all filters.

One of the high-volume tags on twitter now, besides #iran, is #cnnfail--
analyzing how global news channels' have been to slow to cover this breaking
news. Marshall Kirkpatrick writes on ReadWriteWeb: "Twenty years ago CNN's
coverage of Tienanmen Square made its reputation. If in twenty more years it
has become consensus that real-time, online, crowdsourced media is the best
place to keep up with current events, [Iran] could be an important part of
that history unfolding."

Technology channeled into productive, political, networked, flattening
activist work. This was the idea of some early net enthusiasts, even though
so much was lost in the last decade of corporate hype and takeover. The
internet is continuing to be the equalizer, making a solo vlogger the
equivalent of the state's Information Ministry. But the technology is only
an empowering tool, the power is still from people. Iranian citizens inside
the country and in the global diaspora.

Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski wrote a memoir of witnessing
revolution: "The policeman’s experience: If I shout at someone and raise my
truncheon, he will first go numb with terror and then take to his heels. But
this time everything turns out differently. The policeman shouts, but the
man doesn’t run. He just stands there, looking at the policeman. It’s a
cautious look, still tinged with fear, but at the same time tough and
insolent. The man on the edge of the crowd...glances around and sees the
same look on other faces. Like his, their faces are watchful, still a bit
fearful, but already firm and unrelenting. Nobody runs though the policeman
has gone on shouting; at last he stops. There is a moment of silence."

Kapuscinski wrote this in Tehran. 1979.

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