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  • 12 July 2011
  • Posted By Ali Tayebi
  • 2 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Sanctions, Uncategorized

Left Outside the Circle: Iranians and Google+

The newly launched Google social network service called Google+ has created a major buzz online, but has also sparked many questions (and some answers).  Why do we need another social network? What does it have to offer more than Twitter and Facebook?

But for Iranians, there is an even bigger question: will I even be allowed to use Google+?

That’s because the combination of the online filtering carried out by Iran’s government, paired with a U.S. sanctions regime that dissuades companies from offering services in Iran, often leaves Iranians stuck in limbo when it comes to access to social networking tools.

Sadly, with Google+ it looks like the supposedly contradictory forces of repression and sanctions are yet again working in tandem to leave ordinary Iranians outside of the social networking loop.

Over the past decade, despite the many obstacles, Iranians have been vanguards in utilizing social networks. Their journey started with Orkut, which created a huge amount of excitement around experiencing totally new online atmosphere.  Soon after, Orkut was blocked.

Then Yahoo 360 became popular and remained popular until Facebook emerged. Iranians settled into this social network like many other users around the world, and they gradually found their way to bypass the Iran government’s filtering by using VPN or anti-filter software. At the same time, some Iranians use Google Reader, which they called Gooder, as an underground sphere to distribute contents of blocked websites and news agencies in Iran.

Through Facebook, Iranian public figures for the first time started to publicly use social media to directly interact with their supporters. Eventually, Facebook was used in the 2009 election (and later in its aftermath), along with Twitter and YouTube–inspired in part by how Obama’s 2008 campaign utilized these tools. In so doing, Iran became the first Middle-Eastern country to use social media to mobilize people for political purposes. The phenomenon, sometimes referred to as a “twitter revolution” or Revolution 2.0, followed again with the Arab Spring.

Last week, when Google launched Google+ after two unsuccessful experiences in Google Buzz and Google Wave, Iranians started to look to the service and begin considering it next to Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader. The initial impression of Google+ is that it has two main areas of potential for Iranians: 1) its integration with Google Reader can unveil the underground networks of Google Reader and easily provide broad access to censored information in Iran, 2) its integration with Google’s homepage, Gmail, and the new Google Toolbar can expand accessibility of Iranians to social networks because history shows that Google services have been the most challenging Internet services for Iran’s government to block.

But even before Google+ become publicly available, Iranians faced difficulties. First, Google banned this service for Iranian IPs and called Iran a “forbidden country.”  Then, a few days later, the Iranian government added Google Plus to their huge list of censored websites.

Now, VPN is the only option for Iranians to use Google+.  But not all the Iranians use VPN to bypass the governmental internet blockage because it is not free and it is not the most reliable or trustworthy option.

From an Iranian perspective, the government behavior is unacceptable, but expected. But for Google to block its new service for Iranians is shaemeful.  The U.S. government, which is talking about putting huge investment for providing free internet access for Iranians in projects like Internet in suitcase, should first take the easy steps and make sure that basic, widely used services like Google+ are not blocked by sanctions.

To Twitter or Not to Twitter

“It was Sullivan who famously proclaimed ‘The Revolution Will Be Twittered’ and called Twitter ‘the critical tool for organizing the resistance in Iran,’” writes Evgeny Morozov a Foreign Policy blogger and Georgetown University Fellow. “It is easy to see why so many pundits accepted this narrative: they had seen something similar before,” he continues, referring to the “Velvet Revolutions” of Eastern Europe during the eighties and nineties.

However, Morozov quickly points out the fundamental flaw in such pre-emptive victories:

“In reality…this new media ecosystem [like Facebook and Twitter] is very much like the old game of ‘Telephone,’ in which errors steadily accumulate in the transmission process, and the final message has nothing in common with the original.”

Morozov’s critique – in the Fall 2009 issue of Dissent – on the opinion that Iran’s protest movement is somehow catalyzed through the conduits of social networking would make any postmodern thinker at least grin. However, Morozov posits that it is wishful thinking and arrogance on the side of Western democracy exporters who believe that the gadgets and toys for capitalist mass consumption can be seriously considered a source for “real change”.

Iranian Government Targets Opposition Worldwide

The Wall Street Journal reported today on an extremely troubling development in the Iranian government’s efforts to silence its critics in the continued aftermath of the disputed June elections–the regime is reportedly attempting to extend its crackdown beyond Iran’s borders to the Iranian diaspora abroad.

“Interviews with roughly 90 ordinary Iranians abroad — college students, housewives, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople — in New York, London, Dubai, Sweden, Los Angeles and other places indicate that people who criticize Iran’s regime online or in public demonstrations are facing threats intended to silence them.”

“Although it wasn’t possible to independently verify their claims, interviewees provided consistently similar descriptions of harassment techniques world-wide.”

In one case, a young Iranian-American engineering student received an email threatening his family should he continue to criticize the Iranian government. He dismissed the threat as a joke until his father was arrested at his home in Tehran and told his son could “no longer safely return to Iran.

Other interviewees said they were questioned at airports, scrutinized at passport control in Iran about their foreign ties, forced to log in to their Facebook accounts, and some had their passports confiscated for their criticisms of the Iranian government’s handling of this summer’s elections.

This shameful campaign is further evidence that the Iranian government is mindful of lessons learned from the Shah’s upheaval:

“During Iran’s historic 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranians abroad played an instrumental role in transforming the movement from a fringe idea led by a frail cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, into a global force that eventually toppled the monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Iranians abroad flocked to Mr. Khomeini’s side, lending his movement language skills, money and, ultimately, global legitimacy.”

“In the current crisis, Iran is eager to prevent a similar scenario.”

  • 27 June 2009
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Iran Updates – June 27

10:50 am: Laura Rozen investigates if events in Iran have weakened Obama’s hand or strengthened it:

As the Obama White House has recalibrated and toughened its daily talking points on Iran in response to the violence of the post-elections dispute, the impression has emerged in some quarters that Washington is flustered by recent events, and indeed, that a wrench has been thrown in President Obama’s hopes for engaging Tehran.

But recent administration assessments and conversations with outside government Iran watchers and non-proliferation experts offer a different view in which Obama’s hand may actually have been strengthened and Iran’s weakened by some overlooked recent events. Among the factors they cite: the outcome of recent elections in Lebanon, in which a pro-western coalition won a majority over a coalition that includes the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, the eagerness of Iran’s leading regional ally Syria to engage with Washington, Arab states’ generally positive response to the Obama administration’s strong push to negotiate Middle East peace and the creation of a Palestinian state. Beyond the Middle East, Obama’s aggressive non-proliferation initiatives and “reset” with Moscow could also end up increasing pressure on Iran, they said.

But not everyone shares this view, and nearly everyone agrees this makes it much harder to engage Iran on critical national security issues in the near future:

“My understanding is the president has had a much larger vision,” said one Washington Iran analyst on condition of anonymity. “He wanted a strategic dialogue with the Iranians, he gave them a pathway into the western camp that benefits the west, the people of Iran, and the larger picture: peace and stability in the Middle East.”

“It’s very tough for the president to engage in a serious manner within the next three-to six months because of how the Iranian government has been conducting itself,” said the National Iranian American Council’s Trita Parsi. “It’s politically far more difficult for him to pull this off,” than before the Iranian government crackdown on opposition supporters. “I’m not saying it’s impossible.”

10:37 am: Overnight news

NY Times:

The direct confrontation over Iran’s presidential election was effectively silenced Friday when the main opposition leader said he would seek permits for any future protests, an influential cleric suggested that leaders of the demonstrations could be executed, and the council responsible for validating the election repeated its declaration that there were no major irregularities.

WSJ:

Security-services commanders have reinforced their already heavy presence in Tehran, a week after the beginning of a brutal crackdown that has reined in unrest following contested June 12 presidential elections. Authorities were reported to be continuing to detain, question and prepare legal proceedings against opposition supporters and those alleged to have participated in recent protests. And the country’s hard-line clerics have rallied behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in supporting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s declared landslide poll victory.

Iran Updates – June 25

6:02 pm: Rep. Cantor asks Pelosi for hearings
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi today asking for joint hearings on the situation in Iran.

I know that you share our deep concern about the growing violence and brutality in Iran.  Unfortunately, it has become clear that the cleric-backed Iranian regime has decided to end the public demonstrations through violent oppression.

Today, I am asking you to call on House committees to hold joint hearings on the situation in Iran, the policies of the United States towards Iran, and any need for changes in our policy

The full text of the letter can be found here.
5:55 pm: Message from Ayatollah Montazeri: “Worldly positions are not permanent” According to Mowj news, Ayatollah Montazeri “harshly criticized the inappropriate actions of the authorities.”

Ayatollah Montazeri praised the people of Iran for proving their braveness and maturity once again by participating in political and social scenes and expressed his regret that in reaction to people demanding their rights the authorities “have taken an approach and committed actions that is beyond imagination by any just human being.”

Montazeri said “I have been involved in the struggles against the previous (Shah) regime and the establishment of the Islamic Republic as much as I can.  I feel ashamed in front of the people and clearly announce that beloved Islam…is different from the behavior of the current rulers.  These actions and policies being done under the banner of religion will certainly cause large segments of people to become cynical regarding the principles of Islam and theocracy and will ruin the hard and valuable work of the Islamic ulema.”

Montazeri harshly criticized the militarization of the society saying “In a country and a regime which is proud of being Islamic and Shiite, and only 30 years after the victory of the revolution when people still remember the last scenes of the past regime, how could they turn Tehran and other large cities into a big garrison while the world is watching? They have put our brothers in the armed forces against the people.  By using plainclothes agents, who are reminders of baton-carrying agents of Shah, cowardly shed the blood of the youth and men and women of this land.”

Montazeri then posed questions to authorities asking “was this the strategy of Prophet Mohammad and Imam Ali? They never cursed and accused their enemies and didn’t silence them by the sword…Now, a group of people thinking that they can commit any crime because they see themselves as being close to the government; attack student dorms, beat them and throw them down the building, commit chain murders and terrorize intellectuals of this nation and be immune from punishment; this is not compatible with any religion and custom.”

Montazeri advised the people to “pursue their reasonable demands while maintaining their calm.”  He also advised the authorities, asking them to stop using harsh and irrational measures which destroys people’s trust and exacerbates the separation between them and regime.  “[The authorities] should not create divisions among the people, apologize for their past mistakes, and understand that worldly positions are not permanent.”

Sign the Petition

 

7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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