New technology helps report Iranian protests

June 16, 2009 2:47:39 PM PDT
As things get more intense on the streets, Iranian officials are cracking down on newspaper and broadcast journalists, which means much of the latest news is now coming from tech-savvy Iranians using Twitter.

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Some call it the beginning of a revolution. They say President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election is a farce and that there's no way Iran counted almost 40 million handwritten paper ballots in just a few hours Friday.

The Iranian government is finding it impossible to keep its own people silent due in large part to protests fueled by technology.

Web sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have become huge in this story. People are turning to them for pictures, video and information. Twitter recognizes its role in this event and announced it would delay a day-long shutdown it had planned for maintenance because it has become such a communication tool.

Two local Iranian students are constantly checking the Internet for information about what's going on back home.

"These days for like 24 hours, I didn't sleep. I got three hours sleep in the last three days. It's been really intense. I'm worried about my friends; they've been on the streets," said an Iranian student.

Even though they're in school in San Francisco, they don't want to give their names for fear of endangering their families in Iran. However, they do feel somewhat close to Iran thanks to the pictures and first-hand accounts they get from the Internet. And it's not from typical media sources.

"Facebook and Twitter are great," said an Iranian student.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and some blogs are providing a direct line of contact from the streets of Iran, despite attempts by the government there to shut down the flow of information.

"I've never seen coverage like this -- Tiananmen Square, what did we really see, a few pictures form it? Now we are really seeing videos from the dorms as they're being attacked, mobs protecting a BBC cameraman on the street," said Howard Rheingold.

Rheingold isn't surprised by all this. He wrote the book "Smart Mobs" seven years ago, focusing on how groups use technology to organize. However, he is impressed by how quickly the Iranians are getting the information out.

"They know how to do things with the technology that's available to them -- that is somewhat vexing to old school power," said Rheingold.

Advocates for digital rights issues say we're witnessing a revolution.

"These governments that have been traditionally able to control the people by regulating their information diet are having a wake-up call now because of the Internet," said Robin Gross, the IP Justice executive director.

Everyone ABC7 spoke with agreed the downside to all this is the possibility of getting bad information. The students ABC7 met said that's why they constantly check as many Web sites as they can to compare the information out there so they can try and figure out what's legitimate.

Event:
There will be a protest in San Francisco at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16, 2009.

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