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Green Wave Briefs No. 1

  1. 1. July 2009 Green Wave Briefs A human look inside the Web Ecology of the 2009 Iran Election Protests …Because people make change possible The following report briefs on what is distributed, but also acted on, in the words of multiply known as the “Where is My Howard Rheingold, “first-hand reports, Vote,” “Sea of Green,” “Green Wave” shocking images and videos that got out to and the “Neda” movement, are a the world in near real-time via Twitter, preliminary analysis of what is perhaps, Facebook, and YouTube.” As Rheingold one the largest, densest and most accurately suggests, the uniquely constituted communicatively prolific distributed smart and voluminous stream of information mobs in human history. The purpose of sharing and related social action related the analysis provided is to shed light on to Iran’s election aftermath is, an “historical exactly how and why people not only precedent." Methods Anonymity of Subjects Green Wave Brief No. 1 Methods and data sources used A statement of research subject Continued on Protest by Proxy: Inside an to study the communication rights and observed protocols. Organic Tactical Response of the Green Wave… Page 2 Page 2 Page 3
  2. 2. Methods In order to trace, in a whole systems manner, the communication ecology of the Green Wave, multiple types of information and communication platforms were studied. By type these are: Primary social sharing sites: Facebook, Twitter, Hi5, Flickr, and YouTube. Secondary application sources: TweetDeck, TweetGrid, Twazzup, Twhirl, Seeismic Desktop, FriendFeed (aggregator), UberTweet, Tweetie, Twitpic, HootSuite, Visible Tweets, and TwitterFox. Anonymity of Subjects Satellite broadcast news networks: BBC, CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, Al Social scientists are beholden Jazeera. to a code of ethics and what follows copiously upholds the protocols of sociology and Online newspapers and magazines: Washington Post, Huffington Post, The anthropology. All of the raw Atlantic, Time, The New York Times, The UK Guardian, Le Monde, data gathered here is entirely and the English edition of Al-Ahram. public, and at the time that it was posted in the digiverse, News Feeds: AP, Reuters, and SkyGrid. could be captured by anyone with an Internet connection. Independent Media Sites: Tehran Bureau, YekIran, Mashable, Nonetheless, anonymity has AlternativePress, Anonymous Iran, Revolutionary Road. been accorded to all of the users whose actions and Cumulatively, between June13th and July 3rd, data was gathered from practices are documented 217 unique web sites and content analysis was conducted on 57 of here. Some pseudonyms given them. Approximately 71 hours were spent participating in and to users may be recognizable following discursive streams – or communications between people – to those who’ve been generated in the aftermath of the Iranian elections. Another 43 hours immersed in the #iranelection were logged following three different types of individual user feeds conversation online. Further, found on Twitter and Facebook (people streaming from inside Iran, all of the Twitter, YT, and Iranians streaming outside of Iran, and non-Iranians streaming outside FaceBook feeds, the personal of Iran). Over 3,117 screen shots were captured and provided a source yet public blog sites, and the of documentation essential for the reflective content analysis of open websites that this communication flows that these reports required. analysis is based on are available to anyone. Despite This research covers the globalized communication ecology of the this, we believe that without Green Wave. It does not cover the local communication ecology that is explicit releases and an playing out within Iran. One exceedingly important distinction between approved IRB, it would be the global and the Iran based local ecologies of the Green Wave is the both unethical and misguided role of cell phones. While hard data on the number of SMSs the first to publish in one place, what days, let alone the number of photos and videos taken with cells is hard would effectively constitute a to come by, it is evident that the front line tool on the ground for mass comprehensive name index of information management was cellphones. Perhaps in the months ahead key actors in the Green people with such data will offer insights into the on the ground Wave/ Where is My Vote/ technology tools used to support coordinated action. movement. 2 Green Wave Briefs No. I
  3. 3. Green Wave Brief No. 1 Organic Tactical Offensives & Responses In the first hours of demonstration, while What happened on June 13th, the eruption of people inside of Iran were creating publicly voiced dissent, may have been the spontaneous and dense protests, the Iranian fruition of something many had long hoped government launched already emplaced for, but it was nonetheless decidedly tactical responses. The government, like any unexpected. When the wave of protest nation-state with a treasury, accessed existing reached critical mass nearing nightfall, procedures for militarized, theocratic, and locales throughout Iran found their streets lit technologic responses. Within hours of the up with burning motorcycles and flares; as first post-election announcement protests, the epic sounds of chanting chains washed swarms of police were sent to manage street over rooftops and balconies. That first nite, demonstrators while behind closed doors there was no full-fledged “Where Is My officials gathered at tables to make key Vote Movement” and there certainly was no decisions. The coordination of a response official movement headquarters. Though effort among protestors was starkly less many turned to Mousavi for the party’s robust in terms of their capabilities for official position on the results, the need to centralized spitfire decision-making and respond across party affiliation was evident subsequent mobilization of assets. from the start - as was the diverse constitution 3 Green Wave Briefs No. I
  4. 4. of the Iranian crowds that ultimately stood up dissenters, provoked a well spring of new for civil liberties in their country. Like all supporters willing and ready to give their time spontaneous smart mobs facing down and skills to advance the cause of Iranian established power structures, participants in democracy. The “issue” global watchers got the Iran election protests had to identify assets familiar with on the afternoon of the 13th was and establish ad-hoc procedures in the fair and transparent elections. The smart mob’s moment. The strategies and procedures that first global participants were, thus largely emerged to carry out protests and ignite a attached to the cause of Iranian democracy global movement are Organic Tactical specific to voting rights. When news spread Offensives & Responses. The capacity of smart globally that the Iranian government had begun mobs to generate and execute Organic Tactical denying its citizens access to tech’d out Offensives & Responses relies on three key communication flows to shut down dissent, the features: a crowd willing to receive and act on issue of censorship and questions of civil information, technology adoptions and liberties were put into play. Waves of new adaptations, and individuals able to take on globally based supporters joined what was exceptional responsibilities. variously being called the “Green Wave” and the “Sea of Green” movement, specifically to The use of web proxies to keep communication support Iranians’ access to communication flowing is one example of an Organic Tactical flows. While many members of the crowd that Response used by protesters. We will use the arrived out of concern for civil liberties were Protest by Proxy example to illustrate some sympathetic to the egregious violation of features of how the Green Wave smart mob “stolen elections” it was the everyday (rather functioned and what its core values are. than event/election based) right to free speech that prompted this contingent of the smart mob into action. The Iranian government’s efforts to Shutting down phone service in certain areas quell communication resulted in inspiring and stepping up Internet filters was a tactic legions of technology savvy people to used by the Iranian government from the first contribute their abilities to countering the afternoon. The move to shut off the voice of government’s actions against transparent Iranians and silence information about events democracy. As waves of people with web on the ground, far from quieting 4 Green Wave Briefs No. I
  5. 5. based skill sets joined the cause, Initially, people were urged in the most technology indebted tactics like the use direct terms to set up proxies and provide of web proxies for getting around the the information to Iranians. The Iranian government’s censorship simplicity of the statement worked well measures were quickly put in place and for dissemination via twitter’s 140 circulated widely to the Green Wave’s character limits, but the problems with distributed smart mob participants. posting proxies publicly became rapidly apparent. New Instructional tweets linked to proxy station pages with directions for Individuals willing to take on extraordinary responsibilities turned securely exchanging proxy addresses were being sent around. Meanwhile older their home pages into proxy information stations. The how tos and what to dos on tweets calling urgently for new proxies to be posted were still circulating. This these proxy station pages were utilized prompted a stream of Directive tweets by people, who in many instances had updating users to not publicly post never set up a web proxy before. Others addresses. When already publicly posted who already knew how to set up proxies proxies began to be shut down or used the proxy stations as central compromised another batch of tweets locations to safely input new proxy began circulating this time directing addresses by the dozens on a daily basis. Iranians not to use publicly posted While these actions were happening, addresses. information links on proxies and the need to get them set up was Tweeted over and over again throughout the days. 5 Green Wave Briefs No. I
  6. 6. how the tactic was carried out and By the end of the first week of protests, consider some of the behaviours and the smart mob’s Organic Tactical shared values that make Organic Response measures had put into place a Tactical Responses possible in dynamic streamlined system employing twitter, globally distributed smart mobs. twitter applications, individual homepages, web proxy software, and Re-circuiting Content Expectations multi-sited servers. Tactical ownership of publicly available These pieces were used in concert to messages circulating in a distributed consistently alert people globally about smart mob are indicative of a cogent the need for proxies and to directly link “sticky” mob with high functionality and Iranian users to the supporter generated therefore an expansive capacity for proxies. The functional structure of the action. In a vibrant actionable smart Protest by Proxy tactic has broad and mob’s communication ecology, what somewhat stunning implications. Here you need to know and what you ought we’ll look at briefly at specific aspects of to be doing bear frequent repeating. 6 Green Wave Briefs No. I
  7. 7. In traditional mass media the information statements of homage in the form of attached to repetition (the kind of content that photoware slideshows, edited QuickTime gets repeated) is normatively applied to the movies and auto play power points which rely sensational, the dramatic, and the provocative. not on sensationalism so much as the humble In a smart mob’s organic (user generated) life of a woman juxtaposed against the unjust media stream, sensationalisms and and undeniably unnecessary murder that provocations need constant refreshing. The ended her life. Though Neda has by no means items that get repeated over sustained periods been forgotten, she has been replaced in the in a smart mob’s mediatised sphere (or Green Wave’s headline news feed. discursive web), are often the most matter of fact, even at times mundane, items of As of this writing, headline news within the information. Green Wave is focused on updates relating the conditions in various prisons, the reality of In the first days after the publicly captured prisoner executions, and the unknowable for globally witnessed death by shooting of Neda now, implications of clerical maneuverings Soltan on June 20th, the event, with its horrific and power plays said to be occurring at and sensationally inhumane moments, was meetings in Qom. Amidst these headline distributed massively and intensively in updates the stream of content on Proxy by traditional and web 8.0 media spheres around Protest has steadily continued. the world. During those days in which On July 6, 2009, mainstream media audiences information on Neda proliferated, another around the world were collectively sighing, stream of older content continued circulating grumbling and outright complaining about the in the Green Wave. This other stream was the repetitive nature of Michael Jackson “news tactic based flow of content related to setting updates” still gobbling up airtime a week after up and distributing proxies for use by people in the King of Pop’s unexpected death. At the Iran. Less than a week out from the terrible same time on July 6, 2009, the Green Wave’s moment of Neda Soltan’s death, mainstream audience members were going on global media had largely moved on from the approximately three weeks of regularly seeing story. While in the still prolific media web of “Pls RT: Proxies needed,” “ppl in Iran NEED Iran’s election aftermath and its expansive Tor info 2 access internet safely,” and “Donate distributed smart mob, references to Neda have bandwidth. #iranelection PLS RT.” It is not disappeared they have lessened and they’ve altered character. To a degree those prolific “Horrible/Terrible/Shocking” links to the raw event of her death so voluminous in the beginning, have been superseded by quieter 7 Green Wave Briefs No. I
  8. 8. definitely true that people who use the Groups organized around business, #iranelection hashtag in manners deemed government, and education, have in common inappropriate are roundly criticized by participant pools whose members have agreed conversants and there is also a great deal of to a form of social contract. That peculiar public debate on the kinds of information and contract, supposes a kind of connectivity and response avenues that should be paid attention consequently the fundamental feature of how to. But there has never once been a publicly such groups understand themselves is thus as posted response comment or tweet, to the “already” connected. The function of these effect of “enough with proxies already? Can I kinds of groups is in part, to manage the get some new news?” This is because, in a outcome of an already established or taken for smart mob news is not judged based solely on granted connectedness (which yet comes with a its sensationalism or its date; news is judged set of tacit and explicit agreements on rules of based on its capacity to further the purposes of behaviour as well as clear, sometimes magnum the collective. opus like explanations of expected modes of action to be taken over a long duration by the We might think of the repeatable information socially contracted participants). By contrast, a items that stream through the discursive web distributed smart mob like the Green Wave, of a distributed smart mob as a kind of comes into being through an urgent or flash omnipresent ticker like the ones found in point decision to forge connections that don’t Times square or on the bottom television already exist screens. The participant pool signs up with an awareness In the regularly scheduled programming world that rather than being taken for granted, of mainstream media, the ticker serves as the proliferating connectivity between participants, instant update space while the main screen is is a core part of the collectivitys’ fundamental the space of repeats. In the organically and function. In other words the production that a therefore often spontaneously coalescing distributed smart mob is concerned with is not limited as it is in existing institutional forms to sphere of the smart mob there is no regularly scheduled programming – which is to say the material production. This mass consciousness primary news space is taken up by “instant capable of generating action on local and global updates.” Rather than the latest news, the levels, assumes that part of its reason for “ticker” content provides mobbers with existence and consequently one of its primary repeated news specifically intended to act as a production modes, is the initiation, expansion consistent source of actionable information. and reproducibility of people based connections. From its very inception, the smart mob is Given that a successful, globally distributed, and aware of itself as a spread out organism with dense smart mob will necessarily have new many parts. Whether the distance is between participants constantly joining, it is clear why persons in a city or people between nations, it’s essential that a healthy portion of the the mob collective recognizes a. its communication stream offers up repetitive fundamental feature of potential disconnection information. The purpose of the tickering stream and b. its essential function of engendering connectivity. 8 Green Wave Briefs No. I
  9. 9. is not to draw in new participants (in the way indicative of what is in many respects a mildly that traditional media uses sensationalized unfathomable genius evident in the operating repeats of Updates to lure viewers and spike structure of a healthy smart mob’s their ratings)– that’s what the primary and communication ecology. In everyday life, most instantaneous updates are for. of the warnings that we need in order to function have been told to us many times, but The ticker, or repeat stream is a vital part of they are not necessarily repeated multiple times the distributed smart mob’s communication a day everyday. “Do not Run this Red Light,” ecology. It serves to inform people on how to for example, might appear on the landscape in participate and provides people with the form of a warning about fines posted on a immediate ways to do just that – participate government sponsored sign. But no one’s via action. The key here is that spectatorship is sending around sms’s to their social network not this audience’s modus operandi –Vive Ut with repetitive directives like “Do Not Run Red Vivus, however is. Lights. Pls RT.” If we compare the growth of consciousness of a smart mob for a moment to Directives: “Do Not RT or Use Proxies the development of consciousness in an individual, the use of daily repetitive warning posted on Twitter.” This directive began information should be normatively identified circulating in mid-June and as of early July is with early to mid learning stages. As toddlers, still in daily circulation on #iranelection micro children, adolescents, and young adults are blogs feeding in real time. The directive enculturated or “learned” in the demands and informational never gets stale, because new dangers of their particular society, they go participants are entering the discussion through age specific periods of receiving everyday and because older information on warning directives: “Don’t put that in your publicly posting proxies is still floating around. mouth,” “Don’t touch that, it’s Repeated throughout any given day (so far) in {hot/dangerous/breakable/off-limits}.” the #iranelection’s content stream, the directive “Do Not Use” reinforces the rules of In the smart mob’s development, the content of engagement. It publicly clarifies for all existing repetitive directions is not age specific, but and incoming participants how to take effective action by defining what not to do. context specific. The Green Wave’s equivalent to “That’s fire! Don’t touch,” which was and is What needs to be done – generating proxies – “Do not post proxies publicly it’s dangerous” is is refined into a procedure with operating indicative of how a healthy distributed smart rules. People are directed in part, by being given clear constraints on action: Don’t just set mob acts on an awareness that a portion of its up a proxy and throw it into virtual domains with participant pool is necessarily always in the no anonymity and all too much traceability. early stages of membership and therefore new to learning the rules of engagement. 9 Leftover and Long-term warnings are Green Wave Briefs No. I
  10. 10. In the Green Wave’s discursive web, the use beginning and return everyday while others of warnings repeated over extended durations will float in and out of the classroom at will exemplifies a communication ecology in whenever their interest is re-piqued. In her which there is an ongoing need in the methods of instruction, the teacher of this dispersed crowd, to a. prevent and/or handle randomly populated classroom has to give misinformation about actions and strategic every student space and time to participate in tactics and b. attend the introductory the group’s productions, which in the education of new comers on discouraged classroom are intellectual. We might also and/or dangerous modes of action. These apply this example of an almost hobo like pool survival requirements are deftly managed of participants to the functioning of a factory. through decentralized, but repetitive How would such an enterprise ever manage to information flows. produce anything in any consistent manner? Yet in the context of a distributed smart mob, Instructions are another kind of omnipresent it is precisely the intense influx of a shifting ‘tickering’ information in the Green Wave’s participant pool that signals their viability. communication ecology. Instructional information is again a type of content that is Returning to the case of proxies, instructional by no means sensational and is by all means links on “how to” set them up and how to mundane in the way that all “how to” and securely give people access to the addresses “what to do” lists have an aura of mundaneity. are now a common part of everyday content As in Directionals like warnings, instructional in the Green Wave’s web ecology. Though repeat items are a consequence of the the purpose of these repeatedly distributed distributed smart mob’s inherent Instructions remains unchanged, the specific understanding of itself as an organism that protocols have evolved. Changes in the must constantly forge new points of social protocols for generating and providing proxies connectivity in order to survive and thrive. To in the short first three weeks of Iran’s election give a better sense of how this is critically aftermath, pose one of the clearest possible different from institutional contexts, imagine a examples of the degree to which smart mobs school in which a teacher has to assume that are necessarily sentient organisms not just everyday some members of her class will leave capable of learning, but capable of rapid and new participants will arrive. Some adaptive learning. 10 students will have been there from the Green Wave Briefs No. I
  11. 11. Implications of Organic Tactical Offensives & Responses At the macro level we might ask; What on their blog site to news updates on the are the implications for the future role of Iran election aftermath, simply slip back distributed smart mobs in geo-political after a few week or months to taking in power struggles if the hyper evolution of streams of mainstream media each day their organic consciousness when activated that are not linked to calls or instructional specifically for direct political action, has means for taking any form of action? shown itself capable of spontaneously and History would seem to suggest that the craftily developing communicative habits answer is yes. People called into and tactical protocols with a speed and extraordinary action and therefore thrown aptitude that easily surpasses the into the heady disequilibrium of acquiring bureaucratic constraints imposed on the new practices, tend to reintegrate tactical adaptivity of militarized states? themselves into the emplaced norms of On the micro or individual level, we practice when the event (war, disaster, etc.) is over. Still, there is a difference in might ask more immediately; Do the habits that the tools and implements used in that mobbers employ to maintain today’s extraordinary events are no longer participation in the organic wired mass limited to extraordinary status themselves. transcend the organism’s life cycle? In a The catalyst for change (or differentially distributed smart mob whose membership realized outcomes), as it always is when it reaches the millions as the Green Wave’s comes to human evolution, is marked by has so far, what are the individuals’ spillover the nature of the tools we are using. effects? What are the kinds of everyday alterations in consciousness and in ‘habitual’ The primary tools of the distributed practices incurred by the experience of smart mob are embedded in everyday life in acting and learning in a collective whose a way that they have never been for any production of “everyday” community is an form of crowd before in human history. invigorated engagement with decentralized, What then are the broader socio-cultural adaptive, hyper-flexible, and targeted action? transformations afoot when millions of Does the man in Iowa or the woman in people have a spontaneous encounter in New Zealand, who just last week learned which exerting various amounts of interest how to set up a proxy server or gifted space and energy on micro levels produces, before our very eyes, macro-global effects? 11 Green Wave Briefs No. I
  12. 12. Green Wave Briefs are researched & prepared by Dr. Bahíyyih Maroon. Each brief is covered by a Creative Commons License. Works may be cited and copied with appropriate reference to authorship.