June 17: What's Jen Clicking on Between Newscasts?

"One if by land, two if by sea... and three if by Twitter..."

The election in Iran and the resulting protests over the last week are kind of too big a topic to tackle in this humble space, but I'll give you a bit of a "Iran Election Technology for Dummies" here today in case you're not following it very closely.  And, if you're online reading this, and you're not up to speed on how technology is bringing this story to us, you need to keep reading.

On Twitter, you can see how people in Iran .. so called "Citizen Journalists," and career journalists who otherwise can't get their information out, are microblogging by searching #Iranelection or #GR88 , which is a hash-handle explained online: "#GR88 handle is being used as proper hash codes to disseminate info coming from Iran.  Bloggers are trying to get info out to the world without the Iranian Gov't being able to easily find them." 

A common "re-tweet" in the last 24 hours has also been the call for people to change their country and time zone to Tehran so that the government, which is threatenening to find and punish people tweeting to the outside world, will not be able to differentiate who is whom.   Here's a sampling of some of the chatter from a minute ago:

Why so many green tinted profiles?  President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, used green as his campaign color and it's now the color associated with the opposition.  A story in The Nation talks about the Green Wave, and how the idea for the green campaign sprouted from just one guy, and not that long ago:

...I met Mostafa Hassani, 27, the whiz kid who came up with the idea of using green. It's a concept that Hassani, a prize-winning design student, came up with in 2008, even before he knew who'd be running.


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"I wanted something that could unite the country. We decided on green. Everyone can have access to something green, and when you make something common, like a logo, people can adopt it."

He brought the idea to the Mousavi campaign a few weeks ago, and it clicked. He started with green arm bands, and it's expanded. The latest innovation is a green-paint handprint and a green checkmate, for a vote. "People can slap their hands on the wall, even in remote areas."

As far as Twitter telling the story.  How can you tell the story in 140 characters?  One tweet from Iran yesterday summed it up pretty well:  "140 characters is a novel when you're being shot at."

If you review the tweets under the search for #iranelection or #GR88 you get a pretty good picture.  Not everyone is saying the same thing, but themes emerge, as a mosaic. 

And our Today in LA Technology reporter in the Silicon Valley, Scott Budman, brings up a very important point:  what we see on Twitter can't be the whole story.  The demographic is skewed;  it favors young, technologically intelligent (read: wealthier) voters who feel their voices were not heard.

In fact, I looked at a story from the UK Guardian which caught my attention because the headline says "Ahmadinejad is who Iranians want."  What?  It says their scientific polls prior to the election showed the current president had a 2-1 margin lead going in, and that of course the Iranian population who lives outside Iran is more likely to have a qualm with the leadership there otherwise THEY'D STILL LIVE THERE!  Read a bit here:

Much commentary has portrayed Iranian youth and the internet as harbingers of change in this election. But our poll found that only a third of Iranians even have access to the internet, while 18-to-24-year-olds comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all age groups.

The only demographic groups in which our survey found Mousavi leading or competitive with Ahmadinejad were university students and graduates, and the highest-income Iranians. When our poll was taken, almost a third of Iranians were also still undecided. Yet the baseline distributions we found then mirror the results reported by the Iranian authorities, indicating the possibility that the vote is not the product of widespread fraud.

Back to technology, now that we've established that those who have the means to get word out may not represent the majority ... I saw an Iran Election Live Blog on the Huffington Post this morning with a tag line that says, "Twitter is the new fax machine.."

Here's the blog post:

2:42 AM ET -- Twitter, the new fax machine. From Time magazine, datelined Jun. 19, 1989 (thanks to reader Chas):

When word of the massacre in Tiananmen Square first reached the University of Michigan, the 250 Chinese students studying there jumped into action: they purchased a fax machine. Daily summaries of Western news accounts and photographs were faxed to universities, government offices, hospitals and businesses in major cities in China to provide an alternative to the government's distorted press reports. The Chinese students traded fax numbers back home along the computer network that links them around the U.S. The fax brigades at Michigan were duplicated on many other campuses. "We want everyone to see that there's blood in the streets," says Sheng-Yu Huang, a chemistry student at the University of California, Berkeley.

What makes this story riveting is the mass of citizen journalists who care enough to get the story circulating, like in 1989 when it was news from the outside that could give people in China a world perspective.  It's not the polished network correspondent with the gas mask standing on the balcony overlooking the city, springloaded and ready to dive out of the way in case something bad happens.  These folks are in the midst of bad things happening, and are dashing off their observations and their thoughts and fears and emotions in real time.  At great risk, whether real or perceived, with all the threats that have been circulating as well.  So, maybe we should be listening.

And if a pro-Ahmadinejad rally draws more people than the Mousavi demonstrations, I hope we hear about that too.

See what else Jen is clicking on...

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