Iran riots 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
The Jerusalem Post's routine online coverage of events in Iran has been cited as an ostensible key element behind the Iranian "Twitter Revolution," and characterized as being part of a purported Israeli conspiracy to stoke unrest in the Islamic republic.
In an online article entitled "Proof: Israeli Effort to Destabilize Iran Via Twitter" published on the Charting Stocks Web site, the unnamed writer charges: "right-wing Israeli interests are engaged in an all out Twitter attack with hopes of delegitimizing the Iranian election and causing political instability within Iran."
The "proof" cited was an online entry published on Sunday on the Post's "The Persian Abyss" blog, in which three very active Iranian Twitterers, whose tweets are still widely circulated, were mentioned as part of an online documentation of Iranians' reaction to the election results on social media outlets [their usernames were later taken down to protect them].
The article went on: "JPost, a major news organization, promoted these three Twitterers who went on to be the source of the IranElection Twitter bombardment. Why is JPost so concerned about Iranian students all of a sudden (which these spammers claim to be)? I must admit that I had my suspicions. After all, Que Bono? (who benefits)."
The writer allows that he does not think that the violence in Iran is a "Jewish conspiracy" because he is "not an anti-semite" and even claims that he is "half-Jewish." Instead he maintains that "these are the workings of the extreme right-wing of Israeli politics" since "Israel perceives Iran as an enemy, more so than any other nation."
"Needless to say, our coverage of events in Iran is guided solely by professional journalistic considerations," said the managing editor of The Jerusalem Post's Web site, www.jpost.com, Shani Rosenfelder.
Conspiracy theorists may be hard to convince, but it is Iran's young, educated pro-Mousavi supporters who have turned their bitter disappointment at the results of the presidential elections into a force to be reckoned with on the micro-blogging site Twitter.
As one 'Facebooker' put it (before Facebook was blocked): "This is not the will of the Iranian people; they are mostly in shock or despair, and the braver ones are being mercilessly beaten on the streets."
Using 'tweets' of 140 characters or less, Iran-based Twitterers have circulated reports at breakneck speed of the violence being used against protesters in the streets of Iran to millions worldwide, complete with video and photo evidence of government forces firing indiscriminately into crowds, beating people with batons and raiding student dormitories.
Despite the Iranian regime's efforts to block Internet access - and especially the streaming of photos and videos of the violence surrounding the protests - by decreasing the bandwidth, effectively slowing down online access to a frustrating level, tech-savvy Iranians have repeatedly found ways to bypass official restrictions using proxy sites that reroute Iran-based messages to post on Twitter.
The site has become the new, as-yet-foolproof tool used by pro-reformist Iranians to circulate real-time accounts of the suppression taking place around them. Twitterers have also used the site to mobilize people for rallies in Iran and to announce protests near Iranian embassies around the world.
"Twitter is the only method of communication they haven't found a way to mess with," one Iranian, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Jerusalem Post by e-mail. "They don't understand, but average folks are very technologically competent. Most of the people protesting are in their twenties. It was a big miscalculation on the government's part."
On Tuesday, Iran state TV confirmed that seven people were killed in clashes with anti-riot police and the basij (Iran's volunteer-based paramilitary force) but unofficial reports, especially from Iranian Twitterers, put the number at close to 25.
That figure has not been confirmed by the mainstream media, thus many have dismissed information coming in from Twitter as unreliable and unverifiable.
And while "unverifiable" may be an accurate description for now, many accounts from Iran's Twitterers have turned out to be true.
One important example includes several Twitter reports on Sunday that government forces were heard speaking Arabic, raising suspicions that Hizbullah and Hamas reinforcements have been brought in.
This item was only available in the mainstream media on Wednesday, three days later; a correspondent for The Jerusalem Post in Teheran reported first-hand allegations of Hamas involvement overnight Tuesday.
Furthermore, the names of five students at Teheran University killed on Monday night were released by Twitter users overnight Tuesday, along with messages of despair and condolences. News services have yet to release that information although, again, the Post's reporter in Teheran included the names in her report on the front page of Wednesday's paper.
"We used to be customers of the media," said Dr. Yair Amichai-Hamburger, director of the Research Center for Internet Psychology at Sammy Ofer School of Communications at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. "Now we produce the media."
Regular, everyday people have become journalists and social activists, he added, and a group of people with a shared interest can form a small but influential army. This allows the ability for real, dynamic opposition that is nearly impossible to suppress, even in a dictatorship like Iran, Amichai-Hamburger said.
Twitter in particular works well for such communication because it is short, simple and instant. Amichai-Hamburger explained that Twitter's immediateness escalates users' emotions, because people who are always online and always connected are always involved.
"It's not like reading the news," explained Amichai-Hamburger. "You are in the news."
The volume and potency of the information circulated on Twitter has become so powerful that Iranian Twitterers have pleaded with their followers not to retweet (forward) their messages using their usernames, as Iranian forces have confiscated computers, laptops and cellphones, effectively putting their lives at risk.
Twitterers have also reported that there have been arrests following wide retweets of their details, a development confirmed on Wednesday by international news services.
Iranian Twitterers have also been waging an online war against the regime by promoting sites that overload the Web sites of prominent regime figures, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khameini. Pro-government Web sites such as the semiofficial Fars News and Raja news have also been targeted.
The Twitter effect has not escaped the Obama administration. On Monday, the State Department intervened to put off a scheduled maintenance of the site which would have taken down Twitter for 90 minutes on Monday at 21:45 p.m. Pacific time, 9:15 a.m. in Iran, a crucial time for Iranians.
Officials asked Twitter to postpone the downtime to coincide with the middle of the night in Iran, and the request was honored.