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Friday, June 19

Allahu Akbar

I cannot in any way claim to know what people are thinking or meaning on the ground, but for centuries, 'Allahu Akbar' has been in the Muslim world a battlefield of meaning and ultimately of political legitimacy. They are five syllables pregnant in meaning, mutability and richness, not simply a ritualistic or fundamentalist dogmatic trope. Nor is 'Allahu Akbar' simply a prayer. In fact, despite all its negative, violent connotations in the West, 'Allahu Akbar' has been uttered by Muslims throughout history as a cry against oppression, against kings and monarchs, against tyrannical and despotic rule, reminding people that in the end, the disposer of affairs and ultimate holder of legitimacy is not any man, not any king or queen, not even any supreme leader, but ultimately a divine force out and above directing, caring and fighting for a more peaceful, rule-based, just and free world for people to live in. God is the one who is greatest, above each and every mortal human being whose station it is to pass away.

The fact that 'Allahu Akbar' is echoing through the Iranian night is not only an indication of the longing of people there to find a peaceful and just solution to this crisis. It also points to how deep the erosion of legitimacy is in whosoever acts against the will of the people, in whosoever claims to act on God's behalf to oppress his fellow human, including in this case some of the 'supreme' Islamic jurists themselves. This all goes to show that Islam, far from being merely an abode of repression and retrogression, has the capacity of being a fundamentally restorative and democratic force in human affairs. In the end, so it seems, at least in the Iranian context, 'Allahu Akbar', God is greatest, is a most profoundly democratic of political slogans. So deep is this call, that what is determined out of this liminal moment may very well set the terms for (or against) a lived, democratic Islamic reality for decades to come.

From Huffpost's (Nico Pitney's) incredible coverage

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Thursday, June 18

Get you stylish green avatar 'ere

Peeps are changing their avatars on Twitter to show solidarity with Iranians by throwing a green gloss over them, which makes everyone look like they're caught with a night vision camera.

Here's the one stop-shop which will do that for you.

Instead you might want to pick from the following!

Having attended a very stylish demonstration opposite the Iranian Embassy this evening, taking the trouble with your avatar seems to me to be entirely at one with the Iranian opposition!

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Wednesday, June 17

No, you cannot look at the naked pigs

Chinese dude relaying censored informationImage by inju via Flickr

I have posted numerous times about the 'issues' with web filters. Their side-effects and their lack of evolution (despite manufacturer claims).

So the news that China was softening its requirement that all new computers come loaded with a censorware program called (honestly, something lost in the translation) Green Dam Youth Escort because of over-blocking comes as no surprise.
While the government claims that the software is aimed only at blocking violence and pornography, it has emerged that it also blocks discussion of homosexuality and other non-pornographic gay content. It had even been found to block pictures of pigs, mistaking the image for naked human skin.
It must be progress, China-wise, that they feel the need to respond to such inanities!

Amusing, but this is exactly the same scenario which school web administrators find themselves in in the UK all the time - having to decide whether to unblock something (think gay, sex education, abortion, history of Nazis) the machine has decided is damaging.

Despite what they tell you, the people selling this stuff know that it is possible to get around it. However they also know, like the regime in China, that for most people it works. Censorware works.

And that's the problem with censorware, anywhere. Unless it is democratically controlled it is privatised or state-controlled censorship.
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Iran: video from the frontline

I am publishing YouTube clips from Iran on

New common tag format + some useful firefox add-ons

Diagram for the LOD datasetsImage via Wikipedia

Been meaning to mention a few new Firefox add-ons which I've been using and some PR today prodded me.
Web Companies Develop Common Tag Format
A group of Web companies announced today the development of a new tagging format for Web pages called Common Tag. The companies--AdaptiveBlue, DERI (NUI Galway), Faviki, Freebase, Yahoo!, Zemanta, and Zigtag--offer services that help publishers use semantic tagging to make their content more discoverable, connected, and engaging.
This is about developing the 'Semantic web', which is about a web which can be more easily read by machines and hence made more useful for humans. The tags would be commonly defined and linked to rich data.

Zemanta is a tool I'm already using - that's why the 'blog this' button is now appearing at the bottom of my posts. It offers up tag suggestions as well as related web content and free to use images.

It's fairly new, so the image suggestions can be a little limited. But it is extremely useful.

Two other new add-on for me are Shareaholic - which allows you to send a page quickly to social networks plus email - and Scribefire which allows you to quickly blog about something you've seen on the web and is integrated with Zemanta. I'm using it now.

As well I use - which does what it says on the tin and auto-tweets new blog updates to Twitter.

All I need to do now is completely update the tags on all my blog posts, gulp :[

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Tuesday, June 16

More on Twitter and the events in Iran

Expanding on the points made by the head of BBC News, Richard Sambrook, about the issues with sorting through the outpouring of tweets from Iran, Kevin Drum writing for Mother Jones underlines some lessons about the way in which Twitter is best used at a moment like this.

Firstly he actually quotes me, unwittingly:

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers writes:

Ahmadinejad's and Khamenei's websites were taken down yesterday — I saw the latter go down within a couple of minutes because of a DDOS attack organised via Twitter. @StopAhmadi is a good source for tweets on this. The other important use of Twitter has been distribution of proxy addresses via Twitter. This would be how most video and pictures of today's rally have gotten out.

That was Andrew quoting from my email (but no credit). It was late GMT Sunday and @stopahmadi linked to an auto-refresh address for Khamenei's website. Literally within a minute of his tweet the site was showing an error.

Drum cites what I'd seen happening by the middle of Sunday with Twitter:
There was just too much of it; it was nearly impossible to know who to trust; and the overwhelming surge of intensely local and intensely personal views made it far too easy to get caught up in events and see things happening that just weren't there.
I kindof agree with Drum but as I pointed out yesterday this was if you just followed the hashtag(s) and hadn't sifted out the best sources (like @stopamadi). I have had a big lot of new followers, I assume because I'm retweeting news and tweeting links on the situation and people have spotted this in the hashtag stream.

Looking at the past few days coverage, who Drum rates are:
The small number of traditional news outlets that do still have foreign bureaus and real expertise. The New York Times. The BBC. Al Jazeera. A few others.
The Times did have a good newsblog up by Sunday, However, on Sunday the BBC's reporting and The Guardian's was terrible because, I assume, it was a Sunday and maybe because the reporters on the ground couldn't get stories past weekend editors. It was very noticeable that the latter launched a 'liveblog' on Monday and the first few hours were spent with the blogger catching up.

I also watched the BBC go from 'Amadi won' to something a bit more nuanced and taking much more reporting from their Tehran guy and their Persian service by yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately we were still treated to the ramblings of the sort of star, flown-in reporter as seen in Drop The Dead Donkey.

Everyone appeared to be caught off guard by Tuesday's events, including most noticeably the BBC's star foreign reporter, John Simpson. And perhaps this was becuase they weren't paying enough attention to Twitter where there was intense chatter about the rally, almost all about encouraging people to go. The UK MSM reporter who has impressed me the most is Channel Four's Lindsey Hilsum.

The real star reporters has been HuffPost. Their Nico Pitney has been going with frequent updates on a liveblog since early Sunday and appears to have had little sleep.

Andy Sullivan, as well, has been open all hours and has been very good but has he repeated a lot of rumours, some posts have consisted of just a lot of tweets, and not put them in context. HuffPost has been a lot more careful and made clear what is rumour and what isn't. Where he has been good is in linking to articles which discuss the shenanigans going on in the background as well as the reaction in American politics.


If you are on Twitter and want to help Iranians then this is a MUST READ: #iranelection cyberwar guide for beginners by Esko Reinikaine.

Esko's website appears to have been taken down, so I have taken the liberty of republishing his guidance:

The purpose of this guide is to help you participate constructively in the Iranian election protests through twitter.

1. Do NOT publicise proxy IP’s over twitter, and especially not using the #iranelection hashtag. Security forces are monitoring this hashtag, and the moment they identify a proxy IP they will block it in Iran. If you are creating new proxies for the Iranian bloggers, DM them to @stopAhmadi or @iran09 and they will distributed them discretely to bloggers in Iran.
2. Hashtags, the only two legitimate hashtags being used by bloggers in Iran are #iranelection and #gr88, other hashtag ideas run the risk of diluting the conversation.
3. Keep you bull$hit filter up! Security forces are now setting up twitter accounts to spread disinformation by posing as Iranian protesters. Please don’t retweet impetuosly, try to confirm information with reliable sources before retweeting. The legitimate sources are not hard to find and follow.
4. Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.
5. Don’t blow their cover! If you discover a genuine source, please don’t publicise their name or location on a website. These bloggers are in REAL danger. Spread the word discretely through your own networks but don’t signpost them to the security forces. People are dying there, for real, please keep that in mind.
6. Denial of Service attacks. If you don’t know what you are doing, stay out of this game. Only target those sites the legitimate Iranian bloggers are designating. Be aware that these attacks can have detrimental effects to the network the protesters are relying on. Keep monitoring their traffic to note when you should turn the taps on or off.
7. Do spread the (legitimate) word, it works! When the bloggers asked for twitter maintenance to be postponed using the #nomaintenance tag, it had the desired effect. As long as we spread good information, provide moral support to the protesters, and take our lead from the legitimate bloggers, we can make a constructive contribution.

Please remember that this is about the future of the Iranian people, while it might be exciting to get caught up in the flow of participating in a new meme, do not lose sight of what this is really about.


Rachel Maddow discusses the use of the web by the opposition with NBC correspondent Richard Engel. Importantly, Engel notes the use of Twitter as an organisational tool.

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Monday, June 15

Twitter and the events in Iran

Head of BBC News, Richard Sambrook, has blogged about the issues with sorting through the outpouring of tweets from Iran.

He cites a list of rumours which I've also seen flowing around. None are yet confirmed but many have the ring of truth (or past practice) behind them.

Interestingly, he doesn't use the rumours to damn Twitter, saying:

If you had a reasonable understanding of social media, how to set up and assess feeds, how to compare and contrast information, if you had a reasonable understanding of news flows, a developed sense of scepticism, and an above average understanding of the political situation in Iran, you would have emerged much better informed than the lay viewer relying on TV or Radio news. The information online ran significantly ahead of the news organisations (who hopefully were taking time to check what they could) but it came at a high noise to signal ratio....(at one point I measured almost 2500 updates in a minute - though usually it was closer to 200)
There are at least two other uses which I have watched Twitter be put to.
This is in addition to being an information distribution channel inside Iran - there is an official Mousavi Twitter account - and a great boost for the protesters seeing the support from the rest of the world.

As well thousands of followers around the world have narrowed down the individual accounts they should follow from the fast-flowing river that #iranelection has become.

Many have been following Change_for_Iran, a student who has been tweeting, sometimes harrowing messages, throughout the siege of Tehran University.

Another good source has been StopAhmadi who has tweeted at a furious rate but has made a point of saying if information is confirmed or not.

For more see this FriendFeed compilation of messages coming from Inside Iran.

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Sunday, June 14

Twitter: let the last doubter now shut up

cartoon by Nikahang Kosar of ahmadinejad with a raised middle finger with his election percentage

Cartoon by Nikahang Kosar

First they came for the newspapers, like they always do. Then they went after the opposition's leaders, like they always do. Then they shut down the TV, like they always do. Then they cut the telephone lines including the mobile networks. Then they slowed down the internet and tried to block youtube and social networks, like they now have to.

This left Twitter as the last channel of opposition organisation standing.

And after midnight in Tehran this led to:

@pauloCanning #iran thousands on Tehran rooftops chanting 'Allah O Akbar' sound 'deafening'
This was the update which did it:
ALL internet & mobile networks are cut. We ask everyone in Tehran to go onto their rooftops and shout ALAHO AKBAR in protest #IranElection
Followed by:
0:05 PM ET -- Twitter goes dark? I noted earlier that Twitter was the only major social network still operating in Iran. Now something has changed. All of the Iran-based Twitter users I've been reading haven't posted for at least 30 minutes or so. The reasons are unclear. Some on Twitter are claiming there is a complete electricity shut-down in Tehran. One Iran-based Twitter user, @tehranelection, last posted an hour ago: "I have to shut down for a bit, the police are looking for satellites." Will update as soon as I hear more.
It is coming to something if in order to completely silence opposition you have to shut off the electricity.

The events I describe here are completely absent from almost all of the MSM (BBC, CNN, Fox) The New York Times is an exception, they have a liveblog running which they're promoting from their homepage. Also, the best UK reporting from Tehran seems to be coming from Channel Four's Lindsey Hilsum.

Not for the first time, has the place to watch and find out the latest been blogs and social networks.

a woman challenges police in tehran