A Media Artist's Response To Failing Diplomacy

When BriAnna Olson's pacifist views were confronted by an adamant American couple, she decided to heed their challenge and head to Tehran-- the epicenter of the Axis of Evil nation.

Amongst a landscape of failed diplomacy and media smear campaigns, she and fellow artist Michael Pope found a society far more alive and hospitable than they'd ever been led to believe.

Like jesters of a modern-day Magellan, they've returned with stories and insights to a culture few American's have seen first hand.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Short Interview w/me on Social Networking and #iranelection

(Interview Questions posed by Meena Ganesan.... I start riffing...)

BriAnna Olson:

Obviously social networking has taken citizen journalism to a whole new level. Why is an online medium so effective? Its really quite simple: Instant access coupled with people "just like you and me" that is, without journalism careers to consider.

The Importance of Following a Controversy So Closely

The Iranian election controversy, in particular, will define the course of history-- for not just 'the other side of the world', but the entirety of a world that constantly struggles with the relationship between religion and policy.

There is a very sizable population of secular educated Iranians who have, after an ugly, bloody revolution (1979) that was hellbent on getting US/capitalist/untrustworthy interests out of their government/country, let the religious take the reins of the country-- forcing many of them out of jobs and into hejabs.

When they saw Obama get elected, they saw a new hope-- and when they felt their election was stolen from them-- they fought back with 30 years of pent up frustration. I think we are seeing the pendulum swing on a large scale-- I only hope that, once all is said and done, the secular do not ostracize the religious-- inviting another round of push and pull.

Mostly, I just hope we can all see & recognize the successes and failures of integrating religion with social policy.

Challenges & Benefits to Tweeting/Blogging about Iran

For one, again, instant access and 'on the ground' reports- half a minute after someone in Tehran has posted, thousands of people, from Cairo to New York to Sydney, can read.

Another benefit was the whole concept of "re-tweeting" (RT) information-- after its original post short 140 character sentences can be 're-broadcast' by recipients, reaching pocket after pocket after pocket of social network.

With the use of hashtags, Twitter created an instant database of #iranelection musings that could be sifted and sorted.

One of the first challenges, or primary concerns, was the reliability of information. I was fortunate enough to know the handful of legit Iranian "Tweeters" to follow on Twitter, so never had to face the issue of "true or not true". Only once did I retweet (via a stranger) without checking the source and retracted within 60 seconds after understanding the harm that the potential disinformation could have created. Several days in, according to many, government agents had infiltrated Twitter to create disinformation. Again, I had already established a relationship with other sources, so was not privy to who was who on that end.

The other major challenge was that anyone based out of Tehran that provided information on Twitter was at risk of arrest. The natural response of the Twitter community, on request, was to change their locations to Tehran (to create far too many profiles to sift through) as well as drop the established protocol of embedding the original source in a RT (to protect identities but keep information flowing).

Personal Connections

As for personal connections, yes, there are many. Everyone I met during my trip last October is a personal connection. Whether it was a translator, cab driver, artist or gallery owner, every one of them let us know their country is ripe for change and expressed an intense want for an evolution of our diplomatic dialogue. They all knew our (then) upcoming election was a big deal-- and they promised us that if we kept McCain out of office, they'd do the same with Ahmadinejad.

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