[iDC] Iran-- Closed Cinemas, A Filtered Internet, Kurastami, Blogging about Sex and Music in Farsi

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Thu Jun 18 15:54:52 UTC 2009


Un-thinking the network, what an inspiring and difficult proposal!
Your comments on the possibility of "deviation from social norms in private,
non-surveilled spaces, away from the network," are definitely something I'd
like to come back to.

(What are your proposals to undermine the normative social milieus that so
pervasive today? I think that withdrawal from the net is futile and largely
a sign of privilege but let's keep that for later...)

But then you write that "Now, perhaps, Twitter keeps the momentum going. But
let's not pretend that this is the kind of effect sociable media is intended
to have on the masses."

This sounds a bit like you are suggesting a corporate master plan that
determined the uses and effects of Twitter and I'd question that. I mean,
let's look at it. In 2000, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey had the idea to make
a "more 'live' LiveJournal. Real-time, up-to-date, from the road.  Akin to
updating your AIM status from wherever you are, and sharing it."

It's quite clear that Dorsey could not have possibly fathomed the various
applications and effects that Twitter has today (e.g., http://is.gd/15lHE).
Surely, in the end, the goal for any for-profit business is to earn a profit
and as soon as large investors come on board, they have a say in all that
but it's messy, largely unpredictable, and the people who use Twitter are
also changing the tool as much as they are shaped by it.

While I agree that all that talk of a "Twitter revolution" in Iran is
completely overblown and self-serving, Twitter, Facebook, and SMS did affect
protests in the Philippines (2003/2005), Ukraine (2005), Egypt (FB, April
6th Movement), February 15, 2003  (worldwide), the RNC in NYC (2004), France
(2005), Spain (2004), Burma and -to an extent- Moldova (2009).
I posted an overview here http://is.gd/15lPc and a few visual notes on the
role of social media during the Gaza-Israel 'conflict'-- http://is.gd/15lUD

In Iran, blogs became a space for its people to discuss alternative
interpretations of the Koran (consider the link between expats and Iranians
at home), and for women who are excluded from coffee houses, the Internet
became a place where they can speak; new social media can facilitate some
social and sexual freedoms.

On the other hand, there are the astro-turfing attempts of the Iranian
government that ordered over 10,000 conservative Basji paramilitary forces
to start blogging. When you have a hard time preventing the distribution of
content, then you try to make individual voices disappear in a sea of noise;
that at least is the thought-- if it works is another question.

A few notes on "Closed Cinemas, A Filtered Internet, Kurastami, Blogging
about Sex and Music in Farsi: Social Media in Iran" http://is.gd/15h9K

After studying the April 6th Youth Movement in Egypt I walked away with a
nuanced, conflicting view of the way that Facebook functioned in this
specific case. On the one hand, the Egyptian blogger Wael Nawara
(http://weekite.blogspot.com/) wrote that ³in general, there¹s this kind of
apathy, a sense that there is nothing we can do to change the situation. But
with Facebook you realize there are others who think alike and share the
same ideals. You can find Islamists there, but it is really dominated by
liberal voices.² (NYT) Some of the demonstrations that ensued attracted more
than 10,000 people and that mattered!! Protesters were not simply triggered
by the Facebook group, of course, but it clearly helped to mobilize
activists on short notice.

But then, of course, the FB group was also a convenient tool for the
government to map activists and in that sense it severely hurt dissent.
Activists need tools for secrecy.

After unpacking the above mentioned examples, it's still unclear to me if
positive or adverse effects of these tools dominated in the end. I have more
questions than definite answers and I certainly don't have an essentialist
stance on the "liberatory possibilities of these corporate social media." I
think it's too early to tell.


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