Monday, 18 June 2012

Remember Iran Flashback: Sifting Information from Rumours on Twitter

Three years ago, as we began our Live Coverage of Iran, we found ourselves in an emerging debate about the changing nature of politics and media: was it possible to use social media to enhance coverage of important events?

On 18 June 2009, we decided to get beyond the simple label of a "Twitter Revolution" and test what we were seeing. We had noticed a young journalist named Josh Shahryar putting out a daily "Green Brief", based on his exhaustive watch of the claims on social media.

This was the outcome:

On "Anonymous Iran", Josh Shahryar has posted a summary of 16 points about the Iranian crisis. This is based on a thorough examination of stories circulated via Twitter --- "no news media outlets have been used in the compilation".

We've cross-checked Mr Shahryar's summary against our information --- from Iranian and international news outlets, the best of the websites covering the crisis, and contacts. We also have tried to assess the importance of the points: for example, without downplaying the other indicators, we think #16 on the political manoeuvres is the most significant, The notations in italics are our current assessment:

1. During the last protest in Tehran, several policemen have been spotted by protesters who were wearing green bands which is the color of the revolution. The policemen have told them candidly that they support them. [Unverified, although there is video footage of demonstrators mingling peacefully with police]

2. During the protests, on several occasions, Baseejis who have attacked peaceful protesters have been arrested on the spot by the police. This seems to have occured in several spots, yet it hasn't been a crackdown of sorts. A few cases only! [Unverified]

3. Several Baseeji militiamen have been spotted laying down their arms and going home after being asked to interfere with the protesters. [Unverified]

4. By far the biggest threat people are facing right now are plainclothesmen. They seem to be everywhere and are targetting people who are not in groups. These men have been mostly linked with Ansar e Hezbollah. [N.B.: This is a different organisation from the Lebanese Hezbollah.] They are responsible for beating people up, arresting people, threatening protesters, arresting reformists from their homes and such. [Verified from numerous sources]

5. So far, it has been confirmed that 15 people in Tehran and 32 people around the country have been killed. Hundreds more have been injured and in excess of 800 people have been detained. Among these there are dozens of reformists. Most of these arrests have been made by the notorious plainclothesmen mentioned above. [The casualty figures, especially outside Tehran, are hard to verify. The number of arrests can only be an estimate, although "hundreds" is indicated from numerous sources.]

6. During yesterday's protests, mullahs have been spotted joining rallies within Tehran and in several other cities. No one could confirm what the status of these Mullahs was or is within the clerical society, but their numbers have been very visible this time. [Unverified, but a number of clerics have been openly critical of President Ahmadinejad and the electoral process. See today's New York Times for an interesting analysis.]

7. Protests have occured not just in Tehran yesterday, but in Ahvaz, Mashhad, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Shiraz, Tabriz and EVEN Qom. [Largely verified, although we are checking the Qom claim.]

8. Pro-Ahmadinejad protesters' numbers have been greatly exaggerated by the state media in comparison to Mousavi's supporters' numbers. In reality, Pro-Ahmadinejad protesters were only a pocket full of people. Most of these people have been identified by other protesters as either people who work at government offices or people who were brought from the countryside. [Unverified and should be treated with caution. Television images showed more than a "pocketful" of people and the claim that their opinions are not legimitate should be considered with the same scepticism as the claim that opposition demonstrators are not legitimate in their protest.]

9. After downplaying the protests for days, the state-run media has finally started to announce news of the events a little more accurately. [Verified, although the state media is now trying to ignore the protests. See today's updates.]

10. Text Messaging is still down in Iran and internet is extremely slow. People are unable to get sattelite channels on their televisions. At the same time, police and plainclothesmen are going door to door and taking away people's satellite dish antennas. [Largely verified. We have only anecdotal evidence of the taking away of antennas.]

11. Mohsen Rezayee, one of the candidates, is going to declare his support for a reelection tomorrow. The fourth candidate, Mahdi Karoubi openly joined yesterday's rally. [Verified.]

12. A group of prominent officials within the Ministry of Interior have written a letter to the Guardian Council declaring that they have witnessed widespread irregularities within the voting and counting processes during the election. They have asked this matter to be investigated fully. [Unverified.]

13. As of today, not a single report of the military's intervention into the peaceful protests has been established. Not a single one. [Verified. Apart from a brief reports of tanks on the streets on Monday night, there has been no evidence of Iranian military challenging the demonstrations.]

14. Khatami and Mousavi have both asked the Ministry of Justice to investigate the involvement of the plainclothesmen in the violence that has been sparked during the protests. [Verified.]

15. Several eye-witnesses have seen non-Iranian Arabs waving Hamas/Hezbollah flags around the protests. These reports have been fully confirmed and are NOT a rumor spread by Israel. [Unverified and should be treated with caution. The accusation of "foreign" support is being used by both sides in the political manoeuvring.]

16. Finally, the big news. It seems that the Green Revolution has garnered the support of Hashemi Rafsanjani, Nateq Noori, Tabatabayee and other prominent clerics and politicians. The Rohaniyone Mubarez organization that which has in its ranks pretty much most of the clerics except for the ones in power and includes Mr. Rafsanjani and Mr. Noori has declared their support for the annullment of the election and holding of new elections. Ayatollah Montazeri has yet to declare clear support. [An important claim which is not untrue but is exaggerated at this point. Rafsanjani is clearly trying to mobilise opposition to President Ahmadinejad and the election outcome. We know that he was in Qom on Saturday, asking clerics to come out against the President, but we have no indication that he was successful with "most" of them. This is a key story which should be watched carefully in forthcoming days.]

from EA WorldView: EA Iran

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