Citizen journos in Iran’s demonstrations-ZDnet

December 15, 2009

Iran demonstrations: Plenty of Internet news, but is it reliable?

Doug Hanchard

ZDnet: December 7, 2009

http://government.zdnet.com/?p=6383

Demonstrators and protesters are armed with technology tools that the Iranian Republican Guard and secret police cannot stop. Iran’s government has claimed to have shut off all Internet access into and out of the country. Cell phones with Internet access are also Internet blocked (but not confirmed), except they don’t need Internet access to be effective in reaching the outside world and redistributed content onto the Internet.

Simple Text (SMS) or Mobile Share Service (MMS) can be used, then resent out from any other phone that is outside of the country. The government dare not shut down mobile communications; they rely too much on cell phones themselves in order to maintain command and control. Filtering controls are options but the infrastructure is likely not that advanced in Iran…yet.

There are potential security concerns for the protesters using the two latter options; they can be traced back to the originator. This often is repelled by using jail broken SIMM cards or prepaid phone service purchased using cash. There’s likely an extensive black market for smart phones in Iran (though no one knows for sure how extensive this network is) that also prevents security forces from tracking down protesters getting information to the outside world.

Twitter is exploding with tweets – many claiming to be from within Iran.  A search of twitter.com using Iran Demonstrations as key search words last night, and then simply watching twitter refresh itself suggests the updates were coming in at 500 every minute or so in various stages. But there’s often no way to tell where the tweets are originating from and nobody knows for sure which ones are authentic and which ones are simply outside (of the country) protesters attempting to ramp up the news of the event. The amount of tweet traffic I observed suggests that Twitter actually overloaded and timed out for approximately 5 minutes at one point yesterday.

The U.S. State Department uses Twitter as a diplomatic tool. In March of this year it was extensively used to quell rumours amid fears of a siege at the Embassy in Madagascar. The U.S. State Department have their own twitter account on – http://twitter.com/dipnote

There should be concern as to any news coming out of Iran from any group or demonstration and its validity. Last year Twitter demonstrated where most of its traffic originates from outside of the United States. The Middle East isn’t even tracked in this graph shown here. Perhaps it is now. A request for comment to media relations at twitter.com brought back no official statement. One source familiar with Twitter said no outages occured. Twitter had no comment on current analytic and statistical information policies kept by the company.

Video recorded on a mobile phone is now being leaked out; again the authenticity of it comes into question. Even the mainstream press is stating that these clips are unverified, while observing this phenomenon occurring.

There is a sea of change many in Iran are demanding, particularly students. That much is certain and it is being suppressed directly by the government.  The question one needs to ask: Is anyone getting the true story along with their facts right? Technology advances the possibility, but given the circumstances and problems of authentication and avoid local government prosecution is proving an elusive problem for events occurring not only in Iran, but throughout the Middle East.

Information flows are going to be even harder to keep up with starting tomorrow; Google just announced that they are launching a real-time search engine that sees live updates on twitter and other media. The flow of information, accurate or not, is about to become a Tsunami.

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