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Iran Roundup: "Re-tweeting Is a Kind of Reporting"

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, June 19 2009

With considerable new movement on the ground in Iran -- rallies, protests, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's speech, the shifting political playing field -- and news cycles that are now measured in hours, if not minutes, are we seeing a slight ebb in the obsession over the idea that what's happening in Iran is best understand as some sort of "Twitter Revolution?" Maybe. Or perhaps that's wishful thinking. Either way, there's still enough to fill a roundup of what's happening in and around Iran when it comes to technology, social media, and the Internet in full. (Here's yesterday's roundup, the previous day's, and one from earlier in the week.) Let's dig in.

Over on the New York Times' The Lede blog, Robert Mackey considers the question of whether re-publishing and amplifying details on upcoming rallies, protests, and other resistance actions, puts Iranian organizers -- and their plans in jeopardy. His response is compelling and worth reading in full. But particularly striking was the koan-esque thought that gives us our title title: "In a sense 're-tweeting' is a kind of reporting." A nitpick having to do with The Lede: one downside to a live blog built this way is that there are no internal links. To read Mackey's response, Control/Apple+F for re-tweeting.

And here's perhaps a case in point on the idea that responsible retweeting mandates the vetting of courses and the validity of their information: ABC's Chief Foreign Correspondent Jim Sciutto is finding "retweets" of tweets he never tweeted at all. (via Nico Pitney.) Again, it raises one of the many structural questions about new media that have bubbled up this week: if Twitter is going to be a journalistic medium, should there be built into the interface linkage between retweets and their source tweets, to cut down on fraud, misuse, and other tweet abuse? Also on the source-tracking tip, Allison Hoffman over on the new Tablet Magazine dissects the talk that has been floating around the web that somehow Israel and Israelis are a force behind tweets, text messages, and other digital traffic opposing the Iranian government. (via David Saranga)

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones has a fascinating chart showing the dip in Internet traffic in Iran as a result of the government's initial crackdown and subsequent throttling. Relatedly, the folks over at the Tor anonymizer project dig into the data they have available to try to make sense of claims about how widely their service is being used in Iran. (via @cscannella)

One thing amazing to consider is how the global status of Persian social media has, in a way, gotten a boost this week that won't likely roll back after the events in Iran reach a more settled level. In other words, Facebook has started supporting Farsi/Persian as a native language and Google has rushed out a Persian component to its translator service. That latter new service contributes to a new TwazzUp interface that aggregates -- and translates -- Iran-related tweets. (via Jon Pincus)

In the genre of overview pieces of the role of social media in and around Iran, we have new entry's from the Boston Globe's Hiawatha Bray, Salon's Mike Madden, Slate's Jack Shafer, Open Anthropology's Maximilian Forte,'s Doug Gross, Ethan Zuckerman. And then there's this, from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He, for one, seems to be entertaining a deep appreciation for the power of distributed media, saying of Twitter, "I think it’s a huge win for freedom around the world because this monopoly of information is no longer in the hands of the government."

Finally, consider how, perhaps, the humble 2-minute video clip of a rally yesterday in Tehran atop this post offers a compact illustration of one of what is arguably the most defining characteristics of the role of the Internet and digital media in and around Iran this week: the linked and fluid integration of the written word (in both long and short form), digital visuals content, professional curation and judgment, "amateur" creativity and courage, and more. The video comes to us from a blog -- The Lede -- which is part of a rooted, established media outlet -- the New York Times. It was filmed by someone with a first-hand perspective on the events in Iran, and uploaded to a free video service -- YouTube. Its meaning and trustworthiness is extended by a link to a collaborative collection of knowledge -- Wikipedia -- which provides an English translation to "Ey Iran," the patriotic song reportedly being sung in the clip. It's a piece of content that is a product of the Internet, more than of any one person or group who had a hand in its creation -- a creature we've been seeing much of this week.