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

Frank Pasquale frank.pasquale at gmail.com
Thu Jun 18 16:26:58 UTC 2009

I find Trebor's points below on the double-edged nature of these
technologies fascinating.  Yes, they're empowering people.  But an
op-ed in the NY Times yesterday worried that “the regime is prepared
to detain dissidents — reportedly using Facebook and Twitter to locate
them.”  Even if Twitter blocks such misuses of its data (it has
apparently responded to US State Department requests that it schedule
maintenance in order to maximize opportunities for dissent in Tehran),
we should ask:

1) who owns the underlying physical communications infrastructure?
2) is anything anyone does on these networks safely private?

Perhaps the twitter protests can be seen in the way that Vaclav Havel
modeled the "grocer who refuses to put up a sign" in his essay Power
of the Powerless--as open civil disobedience that assumes the risk of
persecution.  However, we can question the architecture that may make
digital samizdat an impossibility.

On that score, I recommend Michael D. Birnhack's and Niva
Elkin-Koren's paper The Invisible Handshake, which describes new and
hidden exchanges of information for power that are key to
government-business relations:

"Law enforcement agencies seek to enhance their monitoring capacity
and online businesses seek to prevent fraud and combat piracy while
strengthening their ties with authorities. . . . The invisible hand
[of market-based communications] turned out to be very useful for the
State, and it is now being replaced with a handshake, which, likewise,
is invisible. . . . The use of private parties for executing
government roles may create an unholy alliance between governments
that wish to exercise their power and large online players that seek
to maintain and strengthen their dominant role in the market."

at http://www.vjolt.net/vol8/issue2/v8i2_a06-Birnhack-Elkin-Koren.pdf

So even if "corporate social media" try to promote freedom, there are
many other layers of monitoring and control online.


On Thu, Jun 18, 2009 at 11:54 AM, Trebor Scholz<trebor at thing.net> wrote:
> Ulises,
> 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.
> Trebor
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