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Iran Roundup: Facts and Framing

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, June 17 2009

The role of social media in Iran, the seeming insatiable hunger to declare the events there a Twitter/Not Twitter Revolution, and the validity of assumptions about the power of technology to overthrow governments (or at least get votes recounted) has been much covered in all manner of press this week. Much covered. What follows is an attempt to condense that frankly overwhelming flow of news and commentary into a slightly more manageable stream of Iran-related and Iran-related-related information.

First, a taste of the facts, or reasonable approximations of facts. The AP's Ali Akbar Dareini reports that the Iranian military has declared that Iranian websites and blogs that "create tension" must pull down their content or face the consequences-- a move with particular import now that foreign reporters seem to be restricted from reporting in the streets of Tehran. The Guardian reports that Yahoo services are now blocked for some in Iran and that -- out of fear and filtering -- the normally robust Iranian blogosphere has been quiet this week. YouTube's Olivia Ma reports that it's only getting one-tenth of the traffic from Iran it normally gets, despite the fact that there are a great many videos being posted to YouTube from Iran. One photo making its way around the Internet suggests that a pro-Ahmadinejad rally picture was altered to make the crowd look bigger. Speaking of fake, the question of the legitimacy of what's being tweeted on Twitter continues, and TwitSpam pulls together a list of (and means to block) what it says are accounts created by the "Iranian security apparatus." The New York Times' The Lede blog and Huffington Post's Nico Pitney keep up their live coverage of the events in Iran, often touching on the role of new media. (Pitney went on "The Rachel Maddow Show" to discuss his live blogging.) And the New York Times' Bill Keller, in Iran, tries to Google up some American jazz and instead finds himself block. "Welcome to the Islamic Republic," he reflects, "where we protect you from yourself."

Then, some of the framing out there. The Washington Post's Mike Musgrove covers the role of Twitter in particular, and suggests that the impact of tweets inside Iran is, in the words of one L.A.-based Farsi-speaking source, "zero." The New York Times' Tom Friedman types the words, "Bang-bang beats tweet-tweet." Columbia Journalism Review's Megan Garber cautions it's premature to declare anything a "Twitter revolution." (Or, I'll add, unclear if this ever needs to happen at all.) Over on the TED blog, Chris Anderson interviews Clay Shirky, who comes up a bit short in showing such restraint. "I'm always a little reticent to draw lessons from things still unfolding," he says, "but it seems pretty clear that ... this is it. The big one." Baltimore Sun's Nancy Johnston also isn't waiting. CJR's Liz Cox Barrett cautions, perhaps belatedly, against signs of "Twitter Triumphalism." True/Slant's Joshua Kucera reflects upon what it means if some of the tweets in and around Iran might not be all they're cracked up to be. All Things Digital's Kara Swisher calls Twitter "the Forrest Gump of international relations." And then, an old one that has new life, Ethan Zuckerman reflected upon DOS and other "cyberwar" tactics in the context of Israel, writing back then that "forming groups to shut down websites looks a lot like gang thuggery to me."

And that, to be sure, is one tip of a very big, multi-tipped iceberg, if such a thing exists. If not, we're inventing it when it comes to Iran.