Sunday, June 21, 2009

Twitter, Iran, and Citizen Intelligence Agents

Twitter is proving its value once again, in connection with the new revolution in Iran. As usual, the mainstream media (MSM) is floundering around like chickens with their heads cut off.

MSM journalists, especially on CNN, keep whining about how they don't have direct access to events unfolding in Tehran and other parts of Iran. They bitch about how they can't verify social media sources or citizen journalist reports. But the new media continues to bury the old with tons of YouTube videos, blog posts, and Twitter messages.

CNN imposes "Amateur Video" on videos that come from citizen journalists in Tehran. This allows the mainstream media to posture as having "high standards" and "professional journalism", when we all know how flawed, biased, and unprofessional the old media can often be.

CNN does very poor research. A good example is how they try to explain how Twitter works. From what I've seen on CNN, they do a lousy job, so far, of defining such things as RT and # (pound symbol, hash tag).

RT in a Twitter message means ReTweet. It's how we identify a Twitter message, or tweet, that we are quoting and re-messaging. RT is almost always followed by @username, giving credit, and linking, to the originator of the message.

So if I, as Twitter user "vaspersthegrate" (title of my old blog), tweet a message that someone else likes, agrees with, and wants to spread across the Twitter realm, they will send it this way:

RT @vaspersthegrate Governments cannot kill & imprison the entire population. #iranelection

Notice the hash tag: #iranelection. This hash tag, the pound symbol #, is used to make it easier to search the specific topic "Iran Election". What's more, if this topic is hot, with lots of Twitter users talking about it via tweets, the topic could end up as a Trending Topic in the sidebar of everyone's Twitter page.

Thus, if you want to read the latest, second by second updates on the Iran Election topic, you can click on (select) #iranelection under Trending Topics. When you tweet on this topic, ending your tweet with #iranelection, you'll see your own tweet in Trending Topics.

What we also need to understand is how social networks, blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and other New Media is auto-correcting, self-policing.

On Twitter, for example, you'll see people arguing about the legitimacy and credibility of various tweets. Other Twitter users will tweet warnings about certain users, like jimjones45 who are spamming or who keep harping about how the rebellion in Iran is entirely instigated by America and England.

Twitter users who spam, lie, rant recklessly, or tweet unverified reports are identified, shunned, and eventually diminish, even to the point of abandoning their account. This procedure works quite well.

A new twist was introduced when, and I complied with this request immediately, some Twitter users were asking us to change our Twitter settings to display our location as Tehran, with a Baghdad time zone (the nearest time zone on Twitter settings to Tehran). We do this to confuse the Iran government thugs who are trying to crack down on Tehran Twitter users.

Let's look at some messages in the Twitter Trending Topic #iranelection and you'll see what I've been describing.

NOTE: due to the barbaric nature of the repressive regime in Iran, RTs are often not attributed to the originator, to protect their identity. Thus, you will often see RT with no @username.

Green_iran_normal jeremiahabrams Validate your sources and facts before you RT on Iran, disinformation can mislead/hurt people on the ground. #iranelection less than 10 seconds ago from web

Gambler_normal pzyktzle UNCONFIRMED JUST IN from fb: Mousavi and wife arrested #IranElection #Neda #gr88 less than 10 seconds ago from TweetDeck

Hafez_normal trawnaman Facebook has authentic-sounding details ( ) on yesterday's shooting death of innocent Neda. #iranelection #neda less than 20 seconds ago from web

Green_normal jwprentice Please sign& RT this 'Appeal to the UN on Iran' alyssa: only 3400 have signed this? #iranelection (via @Alyssa_Milano) less than 20 seconds ago from Twitterrific

Minha_foto_normal luisfelipe8395 PLEASE RT We need 1 million people outside of Iran to change timezone on Twitter to GMT +3:30 & location=Tehran #iranelection RT half a minute ago from web

(NOTE: Twitter does not have GMT + 3:30, you have to use GMT + 3:00 which is Baghdad, close enough in my opinion).

Anne4_normal aafromaa RT @bubblychampers: Does BBC News feel threatened by amateur journalism on Social Networking sites? #iranelection #BBC half a minute ago from twhirl

Default_profile_normal Simon1881 RT NO NEWS NETWORK IS BROADCASTING THAT MOUSAVI WAS ARRESTED. THIS IS A LIE! DON'T BUY IT! #Iranelection #Neda #GR88! half a minute ago from web

Green_3250_2008-10-06-cropped_normal n4rky RT @IranRiggedElect: Mousavi's facebook page: Ghalamews is ostensibly hacked, be wary of what you read there #iranelection #neda half a minute ago from Spaz

Iran-tw-33_bigger_normal RussSte UNCONFIRMED RT @persiankiwi: There are rumours that Gov is losing control of army - #Iranelection #tehran half a minute ago from web

Never-give-up-churchill_normal hardknoxfirst RT henksijgers @101110: Fake 'Iranian' Twitter accounts. Some setup with purpose of getting intel. #iranelection half a minute ago from web

Untitled_normal freeIran134 URGENT RT pt80 BLOCK, don't trust and don't RT @obama45 - it's another spammer #iranelection #gr88 #tehran please RT half a minute ago from web

Bestphoto_steve_normal stevemahfouz RT IDENTITY SECURITY: Be wary if you are asked for ID info of any kind (web site,etc.) Some online petitions are gov't traps. #iranelection less than a minute ago from web

3882_normal tinekefranssen show your support for the people of iran by going green - #iranelection half a minute ago from

Georgewbush_normal obama45 US army killed OVER 600.000 people in Iraq, now they don't hesitate to overthrow n replace the Iranian government. #IranElection Tehran less than a minute ago from Perl Net::Twitter

12707-212_normal luciferos @Obama45 you're likely part of the regime. Tell us your location. #iranelection less than a minute ago from TweetGrid

Hand_iran_normal RoSiTa08 RT @treetracker: @persiankiwi fake twitter accounts: #neda #IranElection less than a minute ago from TweetDeck

Green_4254_default_profile_normal_normal Deskprotestor RT NO evidence from independent internet news sites that Mousavi has been arrested, STOP RT this ! #iranelection #gr88 #neda less than a minute ago from web

Dsc06550_normal HamyDeh CNN has confirmed Mousavi has NOT been arrested. Please do not suggest this unless you have confirmation. #IranElection 1 minute ago from web

Neda_normal BobKat7 @Alyssa_Milano @LaraABCNews Writing a TV script on the latest #Iranelection news. Pls send over pics/vids from today if you've seen them. 2 minutes ago from web

Monasmall_normal monaeltahawy Battle of the clerics as Iran arrests Rafsanjani's daughters/relatives. How do clerics fight it out? My verse vs your verse? #iranelection less than a minute ago from web

B_normal DalekGirl93 RezaliteitRT Lets get a million users to pressure UN! New hash tag #whereistheUN #iranelection #tehran #neda #iran09 #gr88 RT PLZ RT ! 1 minute ago from TwitterFon

26ii_normal Wolfman80 kill Basij who enter homes knives hammers forks Basij Tehran #IranElection Neda #Khamenei_Must_Go 1 minute ago from web

Green_2794_n640118087_715_normal greenrevolotion @iranianyabber RT block obama45 he's a government agent spreading disinformation Tehran, #IranElection, gr88, #neda

SpaceyG SpaceyG Video: "Iran goon squad chases iranian people, june 21 2009." #IranElection

What you're seeing, as it happens in real time, is the effort of citizen journalists to validate, verify, warn, encourage, and support.

We are working out our own journalistic standards on the fly as we testify, report, and reach out to our brothers and sisters in Iran. This is difficult, as there probably are Iran government thugs with Twitter accounts, who are spreading disinformation and traps to catch dissidents.

Not just "citizen journalists" anymore. We are also "citizen espionage operatives" and "citizen intelligence agents" as we attempt to unravel the fakes, spies, and repressive regime Gestapos.

UPDATE: Also see "Iran Elections: A Twitter Revolution?" at the Washington Post, one of the few mainstream newspapers online that actually includes hyperlinks in their editorial content.

And: "Iran: How I Helped Tweet the Revolution from San Fransisco" at the Rag Blog.

Plus: "#iranelection Crisis: A Social Media Timeline" on Mashable.

"Today we are all Iranians."

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