Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

Israel: Psychologische Kriegsführung 2.0

Samstag, November 24th, 2012

“Inside Israel’s Twitter War Room

History of a Social Media Arsenal

by Rebecca L. Stein | published November 24, 2012

Within hours of the onset of Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s latest military campaign in the Gaza Strip, global news outlets had already turned their spotlight on social media. A raft of stories led with the Israel Defense Forces’ use of the popular networking platforms to advance their public relations message, pointing to their use of Twitter to announce the army’s assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmad al-Ja‘bari and their slickly produced Facebook posts justifying the ongoing aerial bombardment.

By the end of the second day, the notion of a “Twitter battlefield” had become a journalistic truism. Numerous pundits mulled over the meaning of this vanguard shift in military and political strategy. Was Israel charting new worlds of warcraft? Would future war plans be molded in Israel’s likeness, employing a toolbox comprised of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr? Evident in much of the voluminous commentary was a tone of something like wonderment -as if once again, and even under rocket fire, Israeli technology cum modernity had triumphed.

What was lost in all this coverage was the history of the Israeli army’s social media investment, which long precedes 2012. Rather, over the course of the last few years, IDF institutions (along with other state organs) have gradually and carefully built up their presence on social media platforms and established these platforms as key weapons in the state’s public relations arsenal. The chief aim: to make them deployable in times of war.

The Digital Imperative

The army’s interest in the wartime potential of social media can be traced to the first few days of the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009 (code-named Operation Cast Lead). Then, the IDF launched its own YouTube channel to showcase footage of the Israeli assault and video blogs by army spokespersons -content designed to fill the void left by Israeli state-imposed restrictions on journalists’ access to the Gaza war zone. Despite widespread international condemnation of Cast Lead, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, the military claimed a decisive public relations victory in the arena of social media, trumpeting the popularity of its YouTube initiative (some videos were viewed more than 2 million times). In the years that followed, the IDF investment in social media would grow exponentially both in budgetary and manpower allocations and in scope, building on this ostensible wartime triumph.

In the IDF’s assessment, Operation Cast Lead had proven the need -indeed, the imperative -for the military to become a skilled and fluent operator within the digital domain. The office of the army spokesperson, where social media work was initially housed, deemed these tools particularly essential during episodes of military confrontation. A senior member of the military’s new media team outlined the operational blueprint succinctly: We gather Twitter followers in times of peace, so that they are ready to disseminate our message when we are at war. [1]

For the IDF’s social media developers, Facebook was the paramount challenge, the site of both the biggest risks and the biggest opportunities. The standard Facebook template was initially seen as infeasible on several grounds. First was the populist character of the platform: “Facebook has a tabloid-y look to it,” an IDF official remarked in March 2011, “and we are, after all, a serious organization.” [2] But perhaps most crucially, Facebook’s signature interactivity, with a “wall” open for public commentary, was regarded as a nearly insurmountable obstacle to the IDF’s aims, due to the anticipated fusillade of criticism. The army learned this lesson during the 2008-2009 Gaza incursion, when its YouTube channel was initially left open to commenters, many of whom turned out to be detractors. The comment function was disabled one day after launch.

On August 14, 2011 -following months of development work -the first official IDF page was launched in English and within one day boasted 90,000 followers (an Arabic-language page, with far fewer followers, appeared shortly thereafter). Engagement with Facebook, the IDF developers decided, required creative manipulation of platform protocols so that they might serve military priorities. The IDF’s retooling of the “like” button was a case in point: “Click ‘Like’ if you support the IDF’s right to defend the state of Israel from those who attempt to harm Israelis,” in the words of an early post (this clunky formulation has since been abandoned, with the IDF now encouraging Facebook users to “share” the army’s content as a way to affirm solidarity with the military’s position). Military personnel articulated the retooling challenge this way: “This is a problem that I face every day. And I have to be creative. I cannot say: ‘Like’ Israel under attack. So, it’s really complicated, but what I try to do is to create a new language, to interpret the language of the army on Facebook.” [3] That fall, army officials lauded plans to administer the Facebook wall around the clock, noting the need for “specific night shifts” on this platform alone -a change enabled by newly appointed staff.

The state’s approach to the Facebook wall would change considerably over time. At first, members of the IDF social media team were anxious to remove what they deemed “derogatory” posts -namely, comments critical of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. In subsequent months, the IDF would spell out a looser policy of permitting criticism to remain online and visible to users. In the language of the IDF, this shift in policy was articulated through the metaphor of graffiti, by which the Facebook wall was conceived as a physical edifice, available for public defacement:

We’re not responsible [for the Facebook wall], and I think that people understand that.… Like, if somebody sprays graffiti on the front door of the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, with graffiti that says “Zionist pigs,” nobody would assume that we painted that, but we’re sure not gonna leave it. I think it’s the same general principle. People understand, but if you leave it, it’s kind of tacit approval. As a policy it’s good to get rid of it, but it’s still not immediately important that you do. No one is assuming that it reflects your policies. [4]

Twitter has presented its own problems and possibilities. As of the fall of 2011, the IDF had assigned four officials to tweet in the army’s name (and the number has surely grown since). At this juncture, increasingly aware of the time-sensitive nature of social media content, the new media team was beginning to prepare Twitter messaging ahead of time -drafting boilerplate that might become army communiqués during military actions in the Occupied Territories. To this end, the team assembled statistics highlighting the IDF’s humanitarian interventions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -this narrative being a central pillar of Israel’s public relations efforts where the military occupation is concerned. They argued that such preparations would enable the military’s social media team to deliver real-time responses to detractors in times of crisis, thus effectively deflating political critique. [5] The pace of the initial Facebook output during Pillar of Defense, coupled with aesthetics borrowed from the Hollywood playbook, suggests that advanced content preparation has also been pursued by the IDF’s Facebook team (an effort which, given the volume of media coverage it received, was surely counted as a success by military personnel).

Order vs. Informality

Perhaps the army’s chief social media challenge has been its negotiation of the informal tenor of communication on these popular platforms. And the challenge has been considerable, requiring the highly regimented world of the military to engage laterally with civilian social media users who often post and tweet in a casual, even intimate idiom. A senior representative of the IDF spokesperson’s office described this problem to me as follows:

They [social media] are contradictory to the military institution. Any army is a closed organization, and usually it keeps its secrets and operational details inside. And new media works on the opposite [sic]; also the language is different. The military language is very strict. There’s a lot of abbreviations; it has very specific intonations. And the new media is exactly the opposite -a lot of emotions, a lot of questions…informality. So it’s a bit difficult to teach the military how new media is really an asset, but we’ve been doing it for the past two years. [6]

This army officer touted the potential of new media as a means of spreading information, mainly its ability to reach audiences that traditional media could not. But she conceded that it has been hard persuading the upper echelons to embrace the shift, given its radical departure from conventional military protocols and modes of IDF self-presentation. Over the course of the last two years, the army has endeavored to redress internal reluctance through education, chiefly training courses for officers. [7] But considerable skepticism and ignorance has remained, particularly among the top brass.

At times, the ignorance has led to embarrassing missteps. In the spring of 2011, senior IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu spoke of the military’s intention to enlist “little hackers who were born and raised online,” young people whom the IDF would “screen with special care and train…to serve the state.” His comments were picked up by the Israeli online media and were broadcast on the military’s dedicated YouTube channel. [8] An IDF spokesman later clarified the nature of the misstatement to me by e-mail, explaining that Benayahu had intended to refer to “an army of bloggers,” rather than “hackers” -the latter term disturbing many IDF officials with its unflattering invocation of covert online malfeasance, a notion out of keeping with the self-portrait that the military’s social media team sought to paint. When I looked for Benayahu’s remarks on YouTube at a later date, they were gone -scrubbed, presumably, in the interest of the IDF’s image of professionalism.

The Digital Vernacular

It is clear, in fact, from interviews with IDF officials that the social media project is nascent and sometimes improvisational. Interestingly, the startup nature of the army’s efforts runs counter to the advanced state of the Israeli high-tech sector, with its highly publicized, military-fed innovation, and also to the high levels of social media literacy in the Israeli population at large. In part, officials emphasize, there is simply a “disconnect” between the conventions of social media and the traditional practices of the state. As they are the first to admit, social media platforms, with their relaxed, person-to-person modes of communication, are grossly at odds with the highly regulated ways in which armies operate.

Even as the IDF labors to speak in a language that will be intelligible to the general public, largely abandoning traditional forms of military jargon, its Facebook and Twitter practices remain committed to the foremost military mission -that of asserting control over social media’s highly interactive field. The challenge is made greater by inadequate staffing, the officials say. Errors frequently ensue, and sometimes -as with Benayahu’s confusion of bloggers with hackers -the results are comic.

What is at work in all these instances is what might be termed “digital vernacularization” -a strategic state endeavor to open new channels of public relations in the informal tone that social media demands. At times, the adoption of the digital vernacular has yielded manifestly positive results, or so the state has claimed, pointing to the massive viewership of the IDF’s YouTube clips during the 2008-2009 Gaza war. Yet, arguably, this project also carries a set of risks for the army’s message, particularly given that the digital field is heavily populated by anti-occupation activists who are much more digitally proficient than the IDF, save its younger recruits. Thus, while the army can generate social media content in prodigious amounts, the outcome of this work is far from certain.

The Facebook Everyman

The IDF embrace of social networking has called into question the so-called digital democracy narrative that was marshaled so enthusiastically in early 2011 to explain the success of popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. That storyline not only attributed the toppling of tyrants to social media -a conclusion now justly deemed naïve -but often went further to propose that these technologies were naturally suited to liberatory politics from below, particularly when led by youth. This variant of the digital democracy theorem depended on a companion narrative that posed Middle Eastern states as strictly repressive actors in the digital domain, namely, as institutions committed to monitoring, infiltrating and/or suppressing social media in order to maintain authoritarian control. The chief example, cited frequently by the media, was the Mubarak regime’s shutdown of the Internet amidst turmoil in the streets and the popular occupation of Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo.

The case of the Israeli army muddies this narrative at both ends -troubling its presumptions both about the organic grassroots and about the autocratic state where social media are concerned. Rather, the IDF case points to the highly variable political functions that social media can serve, bolstering the corrective to digital utopianism most famously associated with Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion. Certainly, the Israeli state continues to employ social media as a means of classic counterinsurgency, engaging in digital surveillance and the like. But, as Operation Pillar of Defense has made clear, the Israeli army is also striving to position itself as a lateral social media user in its own right -a Facebook everyman of sorts. As such, the army employs the quotidian language and norms of networking platforms, always striving to fine-tune its sense of the social media vernacular, while adapting these tools in pursuit of wartime public relations objectives. This model of digital militarism invites a wholesale rethinking of lingering faith in the progressive political promise of social media.

As the Israeli barrage escalated and ground troops mobilized, as fatalities mounted (Palestinian deaths far outstripping Israeli ones), and as images of the Gaza devastation circulated, media outlets by and large left the social media angle behind. It took the satirists at The Onion, however, to point out the multiple ironies of the first two days’ viral social media story: “Palestinian Family Trapped Under Rubble Thrilled to Hear ‘Gaza’ Trending on Twitter.” As The Onion headline pithily put it, the initial focus on social media functioned largely to obfuscate the backdrop to the violence on the ground. Even now, with the social media luster fading and a ceasefire in place, the obfuscation is still present, albeit in different forms. Chief among them is that most familiar of storylines: the near exclusive framing of Operation Pillar of Defense as a war between two parties on an equal footing, the language of “conflict” replacing that of “military occupation.” One thing is clear: As far as the Israeli army is concerned, the social media battlefield is here to stay.


[1] Interview with senior IDF spokesman, Jerusalem, June 2012.
[2] Interview with senior IDF spokesman, Tel Aviv, March 2011.
[3] Interview with senior IDF spokesman, Tel Aviv, November 2011.
[4] Interview with senior IDF spokesman, Tel Aviv, November 2011.
[5] Interview with senior IDF spokesman, Tel Aviv, November 2011.
[6] Interview with senior IDF spokesman, Tel Aviv, March 2011.
[7] Interview with senior IDF spokesman, Tel Aviv, November 2011.
[8] YNet, February 8, 2011.”



Internet: Bye-bye Facebook & Co.

Dienstag, Oktober 30th, 2012

“Plötzlich plappern Anna und Arthur

Seit Jahren betreiben wir Server und Kommunikationsdienste für linke Gruppen, geben wir uns alle Mühe, die Server sicher zu halten, wehren wir – mit unterschiedlichen Mitteln – Anfragen von Behörden zu irgendwelchen Daten ab. Kurz: Wir versuchen im kapitalistischen Internet eine emanzipatorische Basis der Kommunikation zu bieten. Seitdem auch viele Linke Facebook “nutzen” (oder Facebook viele Linke nutzt), sind wir jedoch verunsichert: Vielen scheint es nun nicht mehr darum zu gehen, einerseits das Internet als Ressource für linke Kämpfe zu nutzen, andererseits aber das Internet selbst als politisch umkämpftes Terrain zu verstehen und sich in diesem Kampf dazu zu verhalten. Vielmehr wird unsere politische Arbeit selbst als defizitär und anstrengend wahrgenommen. Verschlüsselte Kommunikation mit autonomen Servern scheint nicht als emanzipativ, sondern als lästig angesehen zu werden.


Wir hatten einfach nicht verstanden, dass es nach all dem Stress auf der Straße und den langen Gruppendiskussionen der Wunsch vieler Aktivist_innen ist, auf Facebook in Ruhe über alles, was erlebt wurde, mit allen zu quatschen. Dass Facebook eben auch für Linke die sanfteste Art der Verführung ist. Dass auch Linke es genießen, dort, wo es scheinbar nicht weh tut, den Strömen der subtilsten Form der Ausbeutung zu folgen und endlich einmal keinen Widerstand zu leisten. Das schlechte Gewissen, das viele dabei sicherlich plagt, weil sie wissen oder ahnen, welche fatalen Konsequenzen Facebook mit sich bringt, scheint hierbei keine besondere Handlungsanweisung zu erteilen.

Ist es wirklich Unwissenheit?

Um einmal kurz zu skizzieren, was das Problem ist: Mit der Benutzung von Facebook machen Linke nicht nur ihre eigene Kommunikation, Meinung, “Likes” usw. transparent und prozessierbar. Sondern, und dies halten wir für weit folgenreicher, es werden linke Strukturen und Einzelpersonen, die selbst mit Facebook wenig oder gar nichts zu tun haben, aufgedeckt. Die Mächtigkeit Facebooks, das Netz nach Relationen, Ähnlichkeiten usw. zu durchsuchen, ist für Laien kaum vorstellbar: Mit dem Plappern auf Facebook werden für Behörden und Konzerne politische Strukturen reproduziert. Diese können dann bequem nach bestimmten Fragen durchsucht, geordnet und aggregiert werden, um präzise Aussagen nicht nur über soziale Relationen, wichtige Personen in der Mitte usw. zu produzieren, sondern auch auf der Zeitachse bestimmte Prognosen treffen zu können, die sich aus Regelmäßigkeiten ableiten lassen. Facebook ist die subtilste, billigste und beste Überwachungstechnologie neben Handys!

Linke Facebooknutzer_innen als unbezahlte V-Leute?

Wir hatten immer gedacht, es geht der Linken um etwas anderes: Die Kämpfe auch im Internet weiterzuführen. Und darum, das Internet für die politischen Kämpfe zu nutzen. Uns geht es darum – auch heute noch. Deshalb sehen wir in Facebook-User_innen eine echte Gefahr für unsere Kämpfe. Und besonders Linke auf Facebook produzieren (meist ohne zu ahnen, was sie tun) wertvolles Wissen, auf das Verfolgungsbehörden in zunehmendem Maße zurückgreifen. Wir könnten fast soweit gehen, diese Linken der Kompliz_innenschaft zu beschuldigen. Aber soweit sind wir noch nicht. Noch ist unsere Hoffnung nicht gestorben, dass sich die Einsicht einmal durchsetzt, dass Facebook ein politischer Gegner ist. Und, dass diejenigen, die Facebook nutzen, Facebook immer mächtiger machen. Linke Facebooknutzer_innen füttern erst die Maschine und legen damit Strukturen offen! Und dies ohne Not, ohne Richter_in, ohne Druck.


Uns ist klar, dass wir von einer gewissen Höhe herab sprechen. Da wir uns seit Jahren mit dem Netz und Computern, Systemadministration, Programmieren, Kryptographie und einigem mehr beschäftigen und teils damit unser Geld verdienen, ist Facebook quasi ein natürlicher Feind für uns. Da wir uns außerdem als Linke verstehen, addiert sich dazu noch eine Analyse der politischen Ökonomie Facebooks, in der “User_innen” zum Produkt werden, an das gleichzeitig auch verkauft wird. In der Fachsprache heißt das “demand generation”. Uns ist klar, dass sich nicht alle mit solcher Hingabe mit dem Internet auseinandersetzen, wie wir es tun. Aber dass Linke dieses trojanische Pferd namens Facebook an ihrem Alltag teilhaben lassen, ist weniger Ausdruck von Unwissenheit als von Ignoranz an einer extrem kritischen Stelle.

Wir fordern mit allem Nachdruck alle auf: Schließt Eure Facebook-Accounts! Ihr gefährdet andere! Verhaltet Euch zu diesem Datenmonster!

Und ansonsten: Verlasst GMX und Co! Nieder mit Google! Gegen die Vorratsdatenspeicherung! Für Netzneutralität! Freiheit für Bradley Manning! Hoch die Dezentralität!

Fight Capitalism! Auch – und gerade – im Internet! Gegen Ausbeutung und Unterdrückung! Auch – und gerade – im Internet!

Nervt Eure Genoss_innen. Macht ihnen klar, dass, wenn sie Facebook füttern, sie sich echt mit der falschen Seite eingelassen haben!

nadir, im Oktober 2012″



Nordafrika / Mittlerer Osten: “Die Rolle des Internets wurde überschätzt”

Montag, Juli 18th, 2011


Sabine Geschwinder befragt Esra’a Al Shafei

“Wer ein Foto von Esra’a Al Shafei veröffentlichen will, bekommt einen Comic. Das ist sicherer. Denn die Studentin aus Bahrain betreibt ein Portal, bei dem kritische Stimmen aus Ländern wie Libyen oder Ägypten zu Wort kommen dürfen.

Comics gegen Homophobie, Gedichte, in denen schonungslos die Gewalt gegen Frauen dargestellt wird, oder Artikel, die direkt von Häftlingen aus dem Militärgefängnis stammen. Die Seite Mideast Youth bündelt jede Art von kritischen Stimmen, die sich für sozialen Wandel im Mittleren Osten oder Nordafrika einsetzen. Veröffentlichen kann jeder, der etwas beizutragen hat. Gegründet wurde die Seite vor fünf Jahren von der Studentin Esra’a Al Shafei, die zum Zeitpunkt der Gründung gerade 19 Jahre alt war. Mit Medien Monitor sprach die Internet-Aktivistin unter anderem über die Macht des Internets und die Angst vor Verfolgung.

Medien Monitor: Was glauben Sie, wird die Rolle des Internets in den Revolutionsbewegungen im Mittleren Osten über- oder unterschätzt?

Esra’a Al Shafei: Ich denke, in den aktuellen Revolutionen wurde die Rolle des Internets überschätzt und aufgeblasen. Mainstream-Medien sind auf den Zug aufgesprungen und haben die Bewegungen aufgebauscht, indem sie den Fokus besonders auf den Einsatz von Twitter und Facebook gelegt haben. Von den wirklichen Gründen, warum die Leute auf die Straße gegangen sind, haben sie abgelenkt. Diese Revolutionen “Facebook-Revolutionen”, “Twitter-Revolutionen” oder sogar “Internet-Revolutionen” zu nennen, ist genauso, als wenn man sie “Schuh-Revolutionen” nennen würde, nur weil alle Protest-Teilnehmer während der Proteste Schuhe getragen haben. Das Internet ist ein Werkzeug, nichts weiter. Man kann damit Wandel entfachen und man kann es nutzen, um Propaganda und Rassismus zu verbreiten. Den einzigen Unterschied macht nur die Entscheidung aus, wie man es nutzen will. Das Internet hat es aber möglich gemacht, dass Menschen diese Proteste verfolgen konnten, die sonst nicht dazu in der Lage gewesen wären.

Nach welchen Kriterien veröffentlichen Sie eigentlich die Artikel auf Ihrer Seite?

Die Artikel können offen eingestellt werden, ohne Moderation. Das Einzige, was wir machen, ist …



(Quelle: Medien Monitor.)

China: Verschärfte Internet-Zensur

Donnerstag, Juli 15th, 2010

“China Microblogs Facing New Restrictions

By Cara Anna

BEIJING — China’s Twitter-like websites are facing new threats of censorship.

One of the country’s top microblogs is down for maintenance, and the other three have begun displaying a ‘beta’ tag to indicate they are in testing, though they have been operating for months.

Users worry that the changes are cover-ups for further restraints on speech in China, where Twitter itself is blocked. They have deluged Chinese cyberspace and the microblog operators with questions and theories about the changes.

Long Weilian, a China-based tech blogger who uses the name William Long, was skeptical about China’s top four microblogs suddenly posting ‘beta’ tags or going ‘under maintenance.’

‘Such a long time to figure that one out,’ he tweeted Wednesday.

Chinese officials often fear that public opinion might spiral out of control as social networking – and social protests – boom among the world’s largest Internet population. The government unplugged Twitter and Facebook last year but has allowed domestic versions to fill the void while keeping them under scrutiny.

Microblogs can quickly aggregate opposition voices, which is why authorities have been increasing controls, said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California-Berkeley.

‘However, given the speed and volume of microblogging content produced in Chinese cyberspace, censors are still several steps behind at this stage,’ he said in an e-mail.

China’s government actually embraced microblogs earlier this year, with the Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily, launching a microblog of its own. Delegates to the annual National People’s Congress were encouraged to use microblogs to report on the meetings.

The People’s Daily microblog showed no sign Thursday of new restrictions.

But the Inc. microblog was down for maintenance, while the Sina Corp., Sohu Inc. and Tencent microblogs displayed a beta tag. Over the weekend, Sohu’s microblogging service was down completely. Otherwise, the sites were allowing search and other functions Thursday.

Some company officials hurried to reassure the public.

Sina president Chen Tong responded Wednesday night to speculation that the site could be shut down. ‘Of course not,’ he said on the site’s microblog. ‘I’ve said that sentence more than any other one today.’

Government officials could not be reached for comment. The telephone at the news office of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology rang unanswered.

A Tencent spokesman told the China Daily newspaper that the beta tag had been on the site’s front page since April. A Sohu spokeswoman did not respond to questions, and spokesmen for Sina and Netease could not be reached.

China maintains the world’s most extensive Internet monitoring and filtering system for its 420 million users. As part of that, Internet companies are required to censor online content to expunge lewd remarks or pointed political comment. Google’s refusal to continue censoring search results was one of the reasons it moved its Chinese search engine offshore earlier this year.

In another possible move against microblogs, Wang Chen, director of the State Council Information Office, has called for requirements that people use their real names when going online. Microblog users don’t need to use their real names to register.

‘As long as our country’s Internet is linked to the global Internet, there will be channels and means for all sorts of harmful foreign information to appear on our domestic Internet,’ Wang said in April. ‘Many weak links still exist in our work. These problems have weakened our ability to manage the Internet scientifically and effectively.’

The government posted Wang’s comments online in May but removed them a day later. The New York-based group Human Rights in China released them this week.

Technologically savvy users can still jump China’s ‘Great Firewall’ with proxy servers or other alternatives.

The popularity of China’s homegrown microblogs could strain any government attempt to wipe them out altogether. ‘Microblogs have developed to this point, so it’s very unlikely that they will be closed completely,’ Cheng said.


Associated Press researcher Xi Yue in Beijing contributed to this report.”


(Quelle: The Huffington Post.)

Iran: Es gilt das gesprochene Wort oder der große Twitter-Hype

Dienstag, Juni 15th, 2010

“The Twitter Devolution

Far from being a tool of revolution in Iran over the last year, the Internet, in many ways, just complicated the picture


Before one of the major Iranian protests of the past year, a journalist in Germany showed me a list of three prominent Twitter accounts that were commenting on the events in Tehran and asked me if I knew the identities of the contributors. I told her I did, but she seemed disappointed when I told her that one of them was in the United States, one was in Turkey, and the third — who specialized in urging people to ‘take to the streets’ — was based in Switzerland.

Perhaps I shattered her dreams of an Iranian ‘Twitter Revolution.’ The Western media certainly never tired of claiming that Iranians used Twitter to organize and coordinate their protests following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s apparent theft of last June’s elections. Even the American government seemed to get in on the act. Former U.S. national security adviser Mark Pfeifle claimed Twitter should get the Nobel Peace Prize because ‘without Twitter the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confidant to stand up for freedom and democracy.’ And the U.S. State Department reportedly asked Twitter to delay some scheduled maintenance in order to allow Iranians to communicate as the protests grew more powerful.

But it is time to get Twitter’s role in the events in Iran right. Simply put: There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran. As Mehdi Yahyanejad, the manager of ‘Balatarin,’ one of the Internet’s most popular Farsi-language websites, told the Washington Post last June, Twitter’s impact inside Iran is nil. ‘Here [in the United States], there is lots of buzz,’ he said. ‘But once you look, you see most of it are Americans tweeting among themselves.’

A number of opposition activists have told me they used text messages, email, and blog posts to publicize protest actions. However, good old-fashioned word of mouth was by far the most influential medium used to shape the postelection opposition activity. There is still a lively discussion happening on Facebook about how the activists spread information, but Twitter was definitely not a major communications tool for activists on the ground in Iran.

Nonetheless, the ‘Twitter Revolution’ was an irresistible meme during the post-election protests, a story that wrote itself. Various analysts were eager to chime in about the purported role of Twitter in the Green Movement. Some were politics experts, like the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan and Marc Ambinder. Others were experts on new media, like Sascha Segan of PC Magazine. Western journalists who couldn’t reach — or didn’t bother reaching? — people on the ground in Iran simply scrolled through the English-language tweets posted with tag #iranelection. Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi.

A pristine instance of this myopia was a profile, published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, of Oxfordgirl, a Twitter blogger who was described as ‘a key player’ in Iran’s postelection unrest. ‘Before they started blocking mobile phones, I was almost coordinating people’s individual movements — ‘go to such and such street,’ or ‘don’t go there, the Basij are waiting,” she was quoted as saying. It’s a riveting story — but the reporter failed to ask how Oxfordgirl managed to communicate with residents of Tehran via cell phone when the Iranian government shut down the whole city’s mobile network, as it always did on days of protest.

Oxfordgirl was ultimately more successful at gaining publicity for herself than at helping any protesters in Iran. Compare her 10,000 Twitter followers with the 300 followers of a Karaj-based Green activist (who prefers not to be identified or to have his Twitter page publicized). The activist tweets in Persian, which few Western journalists can read, and he is often a source of valuable information about the mood in the country.

The story of Oxfordgirl gives a clue about the real role that Twitter played. There is no doubt that she helped spread news about the Iranian protests — often very quickly. Twitter played an important role in getting word about the events in Iran out to the wider world. Together with YouTube, it helped focus the world’s attention on the Iranian people’s fight for democracy and human rights. New media over the last year created and sustained unprecedented international moral solidarity with the Iranian struggle — a struggle that was being bravely waged many years before Twitter was ever conceived.

But an honest accounting of Twitter’s role in Iran would also note its pernicious complicity in allowing rumors to spread. It began with the many unsubstantiated reports from the protests. In the early days of the post-election crackdown a rumor quickly spread on Twitter that police helicopters were pouring acid and boiling water on protesters. A year later it remains just that: a rumor. Other Twitter stories were quickly debunked, like the suggestion that circulated in late June that Mousavi had been arrested at his home in Tehran.

Twitter followers of #iranelection also helped quickly name Saeedeh Pouraghayi — who was allegedly arrested for chanting ‘Allah Akbar’ on her rooftop, only to be raped, disfigured and murdered — a new ‘martyr’ of the Green Movement. Her tragic story quickly made the rounds on Twitter and other social networking websites. Mouasvi and his aides even reportedly attended a commemoration ceremony that was held for her in Tehran.

Yet the whole story turned out to be a hoax. Pouraghayi later appeared on a program on Iran’s state television and said that on the night when she was supposedly arrested, she had escaped by jumping off her balcony. In the intervening two months, she said was being treated at the home of the person who found her in the street. A reformist website later wrote that the Iranian government had planted the story in order to cast doubt on opposition claims about the rape of post-election detainees and pave the way for further arrests of opposition leaders. Twitter, it seems, can serve the purposes of Iran’s regime as easily as it can aid the country’s activists.

To be clear: It’s not that Twitter publicists of the Iranian protests haven’t played a role in the events of the past year. They have. It’s just not been the outsized role it’s often been made out to be. And ultimately, that’s been a terrible injustice to the Iranians who have made real, not remote or virtual, sacrifices in pursuit of justice.”


(Quelle: Foreign Policy.)

Iran’s Grüne Bewegung – ein Jahr danach

Freitag, Juni 11th, 2010

Iran’s Green Movement: One Year Later

How Israel’s Gaza Blockade and Washington’s Sanctions Policy Helped Keep the Hardliners in Power

By Juan Cole

Iran’s Green Movement is one year old this Sunday, the anniversary of its first massive demonstrations in the streets of Tehran. Greeted with great hope in much of the world, a year later it’s weaker, the country is more repressive, and its hardliners are in a far stronger position — and some of their success can be credited to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and sanctions hawks in the Obama administration.

If, in the past year, those hardliners successfully faced down major challenges within Iranian society and abroad, it was only in part thanks to the regime’s skill at repression and sidestepping international pressure. Above all, the ayatollahs benefited from Israeli intransigence and American hypocrisy on nuclear disarmament in the Middle East.

Iran’s case against Israel was bolstered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s continued enthusiasm for the Gaza blockade, and by Tel Aviv’s recent arrogant dismissal of a conference of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatories, which called on Israel to join a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Nor has President Obama’s push for stronger sanctions on Iran at the United Nations Security Council hurt them.

And then, on Memorial Day in the United States, Israel’s Likud government handed Tehran its greatest recent propaganda victory by sending its commandos against a peace flotilla in international waters and so landing its men, guns blazing, on the deck of the USS Sanctions. Yesterday’s vote at the U.N. Security Council on punishing Iran produced a weak, much watered-down resolution targeting 40 companies, which lacked the all-important imprimatur of unanimity, insofar as Turkey and Brazil voted "no" and Lebanon abstained. There was no mention of an oil or gasoline boycott, and the language of the resolution did not even seem to make the new sanctions obligatory. It was at best a pyrrhic victory for those hawks who had pressed for "crippling" sanctions, and likely to be counterproductive rather than effective in ending Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. How we got here is a long, winding, sordid tale of the triumph of macho posturing over patient and effective policymaking.

Suppressing the Green Movement

From last summer through last winter, the hardliners of the Islamic Republic of Iran were powerfully challenged by reformists, who charged that the June 12, 2009, presidential election had been marked by extensive fraud. Street protests were so large, crowds so enthusiastic, and the opposition so steadfast that it seemed as if Iran were on the brink of a significant change in its way of doing business, possibly even internationally. The opposition — the most massive since the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79 — was dubbed the Green Movement, because green is the color of the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, among whom losing presidential candidate Mirhossein Moussavi is counted. Although some movement supporters were secularists, many were religious, and so disarmingly capable of deploying the religious slogans and symbols of the Islamic Republic against the regime itself.

Where the regime put emphasis on the distant Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Levant, Green Movement activists chanted (during "Jerusalem Day" last September), "Not Gaza, not Lebanon. I die only for Iran." They took their cue from candidate Moussavi, who said he "liked" Palestine but thought waving its flag in Iran excessive. Moussavi likewise rejected Obama administration insinuations that his movement’s stance on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program was indistinguishable from that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He emphasized instead that he not only did not want a nuclear weapon for Iran, but understood international concerns about such a prospect. He seemed to suggest that, were he to come to power, he would be far more cooperative with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Israeli government liked what it was hearing; Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu even went on "Meet the Press" last summer to praise the Green Movement fulsomely. "I think something very deep, very fundamental is going on," he said, "and there’s an expression of a deep desire amid the people of Iran for freedom, certainly for greater freedom."

Popular unrest only became possible thanks to a split at the top among the civilian ruling elite of clerics and fundamentalists. When presidential candidates Moussavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and their clerical backers, including Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanaei and wily former president and billionaire entrepreneur Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, began to challenge the country’s authoritarian methods of governance, its repression of personal liberties, and the quixotic foreign policy of President Ahmadinejad (whom Moussavi accused of making Iran a global laughingstock), it opened space below.

The reformers would be opposed by Iran’s supreme theocrat, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who defended the presidential election results as valid, even as he admitted to his preference for Ahmadinejad’s views. He was, in turn, supported by most senior clerics and politicians, the great merchants of the bazaar, and most significantly, the officer corps of the police, the basij(civilian militia), the regular army, and the Revolutionary Guards. Because there would be no significant splits among those armed to defend the regime, it retained an almost unbounded ability to crackdown relentlessly. In the process, the Revolutionary Guards, generally Ahmadinejad partisans, only grew in power.

A year later, it’s clear that the hardliners have won decisively through massive repression, deploying basij armed with clubs on motorcycles to curb crowds, jailing thousands of protesters, and torturing and executing some of them. The main arrow in the opposition’s quiver was flashmobs, relatively spontaneous mass urban demonstrations orchestrated through Twitter, cell phones, and Facebook. The regime gradually learned how to repress this tactic through the careful jamming of electronic media and domestic surveillance. (Apparently the Revolutionary Guards now even have a Facebook Espionage Division.) While the opposition can hope to keep itself alive as an underground civil rights movement, for the moment its chances for overt political change appear slim.

Nuclear Hypocrisy

Though few have noted this, the Green Movement actually threw a monkey wrench into President Obama’s hopes to jump-start direct negotiations with Iran over its nuclear enrichment program. His team could hardly sit down with representatives of Ayatollah Khamenei while the latter was summarily tossing protesters in filthy prisons to be mistreated and even killed. On October 1, 2009, however, with the masses no longer regularly in the streets, representatives of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany met directly with a representative of Khamenei in Geneva.

A potentially pathbreaking nuclear agreement was hammered out whereby Iran would ship the bulk of its already-produced low-enriched uranium (LEU) to another country. In return, it would receive enriched rods with which it could run its single small medical reactor, producing isotopes for treating cancer. That reactor had been given to the Shah’s Iran in 1969, and the last consignment of nuclear fuel purchased for it, from Argentina, was running out. The agreement appealed to the West, because it would deprive Iran of a couple of tons of LEU that, at some point, could theoretically be cycled back through its centrifuges and enriched from 3.5% to over 90%, or weapons grade, for the possible construction of nuclear warheads. There is no evidence that Iran has such a capability or intention, but the Security Council members agreed that safe was better than sorry.

With Khamenei’s representative back in Iran on October 2, the Iranians suddenly announced that they would take a timeout to study it. That timeout never ended, assumedly because Khamenei had gotten a case of cold feet. Though we can only speculate, perhaps nuclear hardliners argued that holding onto the country’s stock of LEU seemed to the hardliners like a crucial form of deterrence in itself, a signal to the world that Iran could turn to bomb-making activities if a war atmosphere built.

Given that nuclear latency — the ability to launch a successful bomb-making program — has geopolitical consequences nearly as important as the actual possession of a bomb, Washington, Tel Aviv, and the major Western European powers remain eager to forestall Iran from reaching that status. As the Geneva fiasco left the impression that the Iranian regime was not ready to negotiate in good faith, the Obama team evidently decided to respond by ratcheting up sanctions on Iran at the Security Council, evidently in hopes of forcing its nuclear negotiators back to the bargaining table. Meanwhile, Netanyahu was loudly demanding the imposition of "crippling" international sanctions on Tehran.

Washington, however, faced a problem: Russian Prime Minister and éminence grise Vladimir Putin initially opposed such sanctions, as did China’s leaders. As Putin observed, "Direct dialogue… is always more productive… than a policy of threats, sanctions, and all the more so a resolution to use force." Moreover, the non-permanent members of the Council included Turkey and Brazil, rising powers and potential leaders of the non-permanent bloc at the Council. Neither country was eager to see Iran put under international boycott for, from their point of view, simply having a civilian nuclear enrichment program. (Since such a program is permitted by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, any such Security Council sanctions on Iran represent, at best, arbitrary acts.)

By mid-May, Obama nonetheless appeared to have his ducks in a row for a vote in which Russia and China would support at least modest further financial restrictions on investments connected to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Many observers believed that such a move, guaranteed to fall far short of "crippling," would in fact prove wholly ineffectual.

Only Turkey and Brazil, lacking veto power in the Council, were proving problematic for Washington. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey leads the Justice and Development Party, which is mildly tinged with Muslim politics (unlike most previous strongly secular governments in Ankara). Viewing himself as a bridge between the Christian West and the Muslim world, he strongly opposes new sanctions on neighboring Iran. In part, he fears they might harm the Turkish economy; in part, he has pursued a policy of developing good relations with all his country’s direct neighbors.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has led a similar charge against any strengthened punishment of Iran. He has been motivated by a desire to alter the prevailing North-dominated system of international relations and trade. Popularly known as "Lula," the president has put more emphasis on encouraging South-South relations. His country gave up its nuclear weapons aspirations in 1980, but continued a civilian nuclear energy program and has recently committed to building a nuclear-powered submarine. Having the Security Council declare even peaceful nuclear enrichment illegal could be extremely inconvenient for Brasilia.

On May 15th, Erdogan and Lula met with Ahmadinejad in Tehran and announced a nuclear deal that much resembled the one to which Iran had briefly agreed in October. Turkey would now hold a majority of Iran’s LEU in escrow in return for which Iran would receive fuel rods enriched to 19.75% for its medical reactor. Critics pointed out that Iran had, by now, produced even more LEU, which meant that the proportion of fuel being sent abroad would be less damaging to any Iranian hopes for nuclear latency and therefore far less attractive to Washington and Tel Aviv. Washington promptly dismissed the agreement, irking the Turkish and Brazilian leaders.

Meanwhile, throughout May, a conference of signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was being held in New York to hammer out a consensus document that would, in the end, declare the Middle East a "nuclear free zone." Unexpectedly, they announced success. Since Israel is the only country in the Middle East with an actual nuclear arsenal (estimated at about 200 warheads, or similar to what the British possess), and not an NPT signatory, Tel Aviv thundered: "This resolution is deeply flawed and hypocritical… It singles out Israel, the Middle East’s only true democracy and the only country threatened with annihilation… Given the distorted nature of this resolution, Israel will not be able to take part in its implementation."

The hypocrisy in all this was visibly Washington’s and Israel’s. After all, both were demanding that a country without nuclear weapons "disarm" and the only country in the region to actually possess them be excused from the disarmament process entirely. This was, of course, their gift to Tehran. Like others involved in the process, Iran’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency immediately noted this and riposted, "The U.S.… is obliged to go along with the world’s request, which is that Israel must join the NPT and open its installations to IAEA inspectors."

A Windfall for the Hardliners: The Flotilla Assault

With the Tehran Agreement brokered by Turkey and Brazil — and signed by Ahmadinejad — and Israel’s rejection of the NPT conference document now public news, Obama’s sanctions program faced a new round of pushback from China. Then, on May 31st, Israeli commandos rappelled from helicopters onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish aid ship heading for Gaza. They threw stun grenades and fired rubber-jacketed metal bullets even before landing, enraging passengers, and leading to a fatal confrontation that left at least nine dead and some 30 wounded. An international uproarensued, putting Israel’s relations with Turkey under special strain.

The Mavi Marmara assault was more splendid news for Iran’s hardliners at the very moment when the Green movement was gearing up for demonstrations to mark the one-year anniversary of the contested presidential election. Around the Israeli assault on the aid flotilla and that country’s blockade of Gaza they were able to rally the public in solidarity with the theocratic government, long a trenchant critic of Israeli oppression of the stateless Palestinians. Green leaders, in turn, were forced to put out a statement condemning Israel, and Khamenei was then able to fill the streets of the capital with two million demonstrators commemorating the death of Imam Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

The flotilla attack also gave the hardliners a foreign policy issue on which they could stand in solidarity with Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and the Arab world generally, reinforcing their cachet as champions of the Palestinians and bolstering the country’s regional influence. There was even talk of sending a new Gaza aid flotilla guarded by Iranian ships. Because Turkey, the aggrieved party, is at present a member of the Security Council, this fortuitous fillip for Iran has denied Obama the unanimity he sought on sanctions. Finally, the incident had the potential to push international concern over Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program and that country’s new assertiveness in the Middle East into the background, while foregrounding Israel’s brutality in Gaza, intransigence toward the peace process, and status as a nuclear outlaw.

In the end, President Obama got his watered-down, non-unanimous sanctions resolution. There is no doubt that Netanyahu’s reluctance to make a just peace with the Palestinians and his cowboy military tactics have enormously complicated Obama’s attempt to pressure Iran and deeply alienated Turkey, one of yesterday’s holdouts.

His election as prime minister in February 2009 turns out to have been the best gift the Israeli electorate could have given Iran. The Likud-led government continues its colonization of the West Bank and its blockade of the civilian population of Gaza, making the Iranian hawks who harp on injustices done to Palestinians look prescient. It refuses to join the NPT or allow U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities, making Iran, by comparison, look like a model IAEA member state.

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and director of its Center for South Asian Studies. He maintains the blog Informed Comment. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Copyright 2010 Juan Cole”