19 June 2009

Mousavi NOT Arrested (Updated)

Interesting how Twitter is quickly acting to turn misinformation into "real" news (because people are unable or unwilling to vet sources), and how eager some young Americans are to engage themselves in the Iran protests, but who get so caught up with revolutionary fever that they forget to think. Even well-intentioned misinformation remains misinformation, and in a situations as impassioned as Iran's, that misinformation can be destructive. Case in point:

Earlier today, someone on Twitter posted a link to an article at The Guardian by a friend of Mr. Mousavi's named Mohsen Makhmalbaf, which said the following:
I have been given the ­responsibility of telling the world what is happening in Iran. The office of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who the Iranian people truly want as their leader, has asked me to do so. They have asked me to tell how Mousavi's headquarters was wrecked by plainclothes police officers. To tell how the commanders of the revolutionary guard ordered him to stay silent. To urge people to take to the streets because Mousavi could not do so directly.
[. . . .]
Some suggest the protests will fade because nobody is leading them. All those close to Mousavi have been arrested, and his contact with the outside world has been restricted. People rely on word of mouth, because their mobile phones and the internet have been closed down. That they continue to gather shows they want something more than an election. They want freedom, and if they are not granted it we will be faced with another revolution.
The person who Tweeted the link to this article posted it with the assertion "MOUSAVI ARRESTED!!! RT RT RT," and
Okay, maybe I need to repeat this loudly to get it RTed: MOUSAVI AND STAFF HAS BEEN ARRESTED
As you can imagine, this caused a bit of a stir. When Twittering skeptics confronted the poster, he reacted with something like outrage at being challenged:
@[redacted] No, because I have as much confirmation on this (if not more) as on many other "confirmed" things. [he had one article that he misread]

@[redacted] Would you rather I stop reporting the news and leave you to wait 2-3 days if not longer for CNN to cover it?
Eventually, he admitted to misreading the article, apologized, and proceeded to retract the posts that directly asserted Mousavi's arrest. However, others remain, for example:
Mousavi's offices are trashed, Mousavi's staff in police custody, Mousavi is missing. #iranelection #gr88 #clarification
However, those posts caught the attention of others. It's now appeared at Daily Kos, and at least one American news personality (I will keep her anonymous) signaled interest in the story. If Ed Henry picks it up, Lord know what it will turn into (I think he still insists that the State Department shut down Twitter on Tuesday).

I'd like to add this: Mr. Makhmalbaf's column repeats old news.
1) Mousavi's office was "looked over" earlier this week (Sunday), and members of the opposition (e.g., "those who are close to him") have been arrested over the course of the week.
2) Mousavi has been pretty low key all week. Recall that similar reports of him being under house arrest showed up earlier this week). He's not addressed the media, and, excepting his appearances at rallies, he communicates to his followers via the Internet and through others (hence The Guardian article). Also, as he's been quiet over hte past day or so, it's useful to recall that recent news reports announced that Supreme Leader Khatemei had directed Mousavi to be quiet or else. It rather makes sense that he's keeping a low profile in the runup to Saturday's rally. Anyway, there's a difference between being arrested, being ordered silent, and being pragmatic (e.g., playing your cards close to your chest). My guess is it's a bit of the latter two mixed together.
Added: Mr. Makhmalbaf spoke with the AP via telephone today; the AP reports:
Mir Hossein Mousavi is not under arrest, but cannot talk with journalists, take phone calls or stand at a microphone at his rallies, his spokesman said Friday from Paris.

Faced with the limitations at rallies, Mousavi has had to speak "into a megaphone that can maybe be heard by 100 people, if everyone is quiet,"
[. . . .]
Authorities are closely watching Mousavi because arresting him would spark further outrage among his supporters, he said, speaking in Farsi. Makhmalbaf said he is in contact with people close to Mousavi in the capital Tehran, but it's become increasingly difficult to reach them.

Mr. Mousavi and the opposition have undergone an horrific week; that's for certain. My concern is that the tenor of the posts seemed design to inflame rather than inform, and that the poster's outrage at being questioned by skeptics illustrates that some people are relying on Twitter to become the news (e.g., so eager to "break" a story that he or she puts it out there without really thinking). Moreover, the story itself, coming after Supreme Leader Khamenei's uber-aggressive oratory, and at an especially heated, anxious moment in Iran, could have resulted in even more news--and little of it pleasant. Think--and verify--before you Tweet.

I've not linked to the Tweeter, nor given his name, because he has been helpful to the opposition, and I don't want to embarrass him further.

Several credible people in Iran have claimed that Mousavi is safe, and that the rallies planned for Saturday will proceed.

Update: 6/21:
Mir-Hossein Mousavi still not under arrest. This rumor emerged early last week, gained new life late last week, and refuses to go away. Approach Twitter with caution. There's some solid, verifiable material there, but there's a significant amount of disinformation as well (some of it from misinterpreting information [see below], some of it aimed at misdirecting protesters, but some of it for lulz: one Tweeter who sent out a version of the latest Mousavi "arrest" story, declaring that it had been "confirmed by BBC and CNN," has the following on his feed:
hipsters sitting at Starbucks tweeting about Iran, envisioning themselves as players in a revolution. Viva la revolucion! #IranElection
you RETARDS! There aren't "Spies" on Twitter - we're just dudes on computer fucking with you. Hee hee, "Spies" #IranElection
Worth keeping in mind.

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