Tag Archives: Obama

The Story of #iranelection


#iranelection was for many people the top news source for the aftermath of incumbent President Mahmoud Amedinejad’s so-called victory over reformer candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi last Friday. It’s not a new cable news channel, or even a news website. It’s what is known on twitter.com as a “trending topic”, a self-declared association of posts on the micro-blogging site. Every post with the word “#iranelection” self-identifies as having something to do with the Iran situation, be it opinions, links to mainstream news articles, or even first hand reports. It’s a new form of primary historical document, one that combines the intimacy of personal letters, the immediacy of video or sound recordings, and the openness of a mass media broadcast.

Twitter is by no means new technology. I find it very similar the web-based chat rooms I myself used in highschool. What is different about it is that it has repurposed current technology to be used in a unique way. Where other systems wanted to emphasize privacy and security, Twitter emphasizes publicity and openness. Most of the 140 character “tweets” are meant for the rest of the Twitter community and the internet at large. It’s easy to write it off as some kind of narcissistic toy, I’m guilty of that myself. However, Twitter’s status as a toy rather than a serious social networking site probably kept it from being blocked in Iran within the first few hours of the protests. Other aspects of the site, like the 140 character limit and interoperable architecture have allowed bloggers in Iran to deal with shoddy connectivity and the government’s attempts to block communication from within the country.

The result is a riveting stream of human emotion, rumor, and anonymous people from across the globe communicating like they never could before. Take a look at this feed from @Change_in_Iran

from the looks of it they are waiting to arrest all the students! it’s also explains the vans9:14 PM Jun 13th from web

some people are now parking their cars in middle of the street trying to block the vans. #iranelection9:16 PM Jun 13th from web

Police is trying to stop people from gathering around while Intel guys still holding a line in front of the gates #iranelection9:05 PM Jun 13th from web

police demanding people to move their cars and start crashing car windows. more people are coming. I will try to get a better view9:18 PM Jun 13th from web

Down with the dictator! Mousavi, Karoubi; support us! #iranelection9:30 PM Jun 13th from web

my eyes are burning hard to keep them open #iranelection9:46 PM Jun 13th from web

I’m dizzy but ok. some people are getting shelter in the nearby unfinished bank building. police arresting a middle aged man10:11 PM Jun 13th from web

@ahmadinejad no wonder you are OK Mr president 24.5M10:13 PM Jun 13th from TwitterFox in reply to ahmadinejad

it’s 9:54 AM -Amirabad street near Pasargad bank and to be honest I don’t have the courage to leave the roof right now #iranelection10:27 PM Jun 13th from web

There are more accounts like this on #iranelection interspersed with rumors of riot police stings disguised as Moussavi rallies and burning ballot boxes. Some tweets supply the Iranians with lists of proxies to get around the government’s internet filters. A hacker’s toolkit of programs to shut down Iranian propaganda websites is making the rounds. From the rest of the world, there are notes praying for the safety of the protesters, “retweets” of some of the more vital bits of news for fellow bloggers, and criticism of mainstream media outlets for their lack of coverage on the events. To see people communicate like this on such a personal level, the future of totalitarian regimes is doubtful. Any government that oppresses its own people on the basis of the threat of an external enemy cannot survive like this. The Great Satan has no horns or pointed tail, and he’s able to send a twitpic to prove it.

This is not to say that Twitter and services like it are going to replace more mainstream froms of news gathering. CNN doesn’t deserve its own #CNNfail channel for the coverage of the Iran Election. The network has to tread carefully to get the kind of access it has. President Obama had just recognized the USA’s involvement in the 1953 installment of the Shah only a week before. The US would do well to keep its distance and establish that it has nothing to do with the current unrest. Besides, it doesn’t matter whether True Blood is the higher trending topic or the mainstream media has to wait a few dozen hours to report on what it finds. That’s not what this is about. We all have an opportunity now to witness history. If we can’t take to the streets, if we can’t tend to the wounded, if can’t tweet from our laptops on the roof, the very least we can do is watch and pray that freedom wins out.

Twitter, Twitter Everywhere

I’ve been on the micro-blogging site Twitter for about year now, and I’ve avoided blogging about because it struck me as the dumbest thing ever. If you’re going to blog using only 140 characters at a time, why do you need a separate platform to do so? I still use it, I enjoy it, but there is no way I can justify its necessity to the real world. The Twitter people don’t seem to be making any money from what they do. Some people are benefiting from Twitter via new subscribers to their websites, but they have no way of sharing this success with Twitter even if they wanted to. The service crashes more times than it should, and frankly it sounds like the whole thing could collapse at any moment.

Yet somehow, Twitter.com keeps growing as a phenomenon. Twitter surpassed Digg.com on Obama’s inauguration day as one of the top social news sites on the internet. Here’s a visualization of Twitter.com’s usage during the inauguration. As the network gets bigger, it gets more interesting. And just like any other social situation, emergent and unwritten rules start popping up. If someone starts following you, it’s polite to follow them back. Consequently, following people is a great way to get people to follow you. Every time I start following people, maybe two people will start following me back. Half of them have “social media expert” or some variation thereof on their profile. I don’t know if their using a twitter robot program to pick me up or if they’re just obsessively following everyone in their friend of a friend of a friend’s twitter lists.

Twitter also has something called an API, which allows people to write programs that help you deal with your ever-expanding friendlist. Tweetdeck is a desktop application for windows that automatically loads new twitter posts (also called “tweets”) and allows you to divide twitter users into groups. You can use services like Tweelater.com to auto-follow your new followers, but personally I want to find something I can host from my own server before I give someone else a new username and password I can forget the next day. The Twitter app on facebook attaches your twitter account to your facebook account, and vice versa. I use Twitter Tools on my wordpress blog to make a new tweet when I have a new post, and the twitter widget posts my twitter feed on the sidebar.

Twitter is a blogging platform that is meant for people who want to be found. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that people want to protect their information from the internet. Celebrities seem to love it. You can follow Arnold Schwarzenegger, Britney Spears, and half the cast-members of Star Trek. Another funny thing about the platform is that it is not fundamentally different from wordpress, facebook, or any other blogging platform. There is no Twitter equation that anyone can patent. A few standards of usage are changed and voilà, you have the next social media phenomenon. I still think that Twitter is weird, its success is weird, and that is precisely why I’m going to keep experimenting with it and see where it takes me.

Yet Another Obama Inauguration Post

Yes, yes, I know. I’m going along with the crowd and making a post about the Obama inauguration. There are times when you have to be an individual, and this is not one of those times. There is a Black US President. No one can ignore that. It’s also a change in power in one of the darkest economic times in recent memory. Any way you look at it, it was history. My wife had the inauguration on the TV in her classroom and one of her students asked, “Are my kids going to learn about today in Social Studies?”

I don’t believe there is anyone who heard that inauguration speech and didn’t feel like kicking ass. Obama painted a picture of the future, and for the duration of that speech it sounded like an exciting place to live. True, there would be hardship and problems, but he reassured that heroes would be made in overcoming them. He also treated America’s enemies differently in his speech. No longer were they the numberless hordes who “hated freedom”. They were actual people, misguided in their ventures, but people nonetheless. I think that approach inspires courage more than it does fear. If Obama does nothing else in his term of office, he will at least be a treat to hear at all of his speaking engagements.

I think the people who were incensed by the appearance of Rick Warren at the inauguration need to grow up. Obama let him lead a prayer, he didn’t make him Secretary of putting-the-government-in-people’s-bedrooms. He will be as much a part of the American Religious landscape after Gay Marriage is allowed as he was before. He will also have to deal with it just like everyone else. The real work of of obtaining the right to marry for all will be done by proving that such a thing is good for society, not just by attacking some figurehead priest. Make no mistake, those bans will be lifted. It’s a when, not an if, and the years of social progress beforehand stand as evidence. After all, as the inauguration today proved, anything is possible.

What will Canada Do With Barack Obama?

In case you didn’t know it was the 21st century, America has just elected Barack Obama, the first African-American President. Personally, I think this turn of events benefits everyone, even Non-Americans like me. It isn’t going to matter exactly what kind of President he is, the fact that Obama got elected the way he did is enough to rewrite the playbook on political campaigns. A vivid and compelling vision of your city, province or country is a requirement for any run for office. Now that we have the internet, that vision can be as vivid and compelling as you want. You can have as much information out there as you want, and the candidate with the most information wins. This increases voter confidence and energizes your core base. Early statistics place US voter turnout at 70-80 percent. Forget that there is a black US president, that number is an even greater achievement!

However, since Canada’s relationship with the US still resembles that of a humpback whale and a cluster of barnacles, a change in regime should always be a concern. The US Ambassador warned the Fraser institute that Canada will miss Bush if Obama wins the election. I’m sure we will miss Bush just as much as that lovely 30% duty he decided to put on our softwood lumber exports.

Obama’s site says that he will work with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to change NAFTA in such a way that benefits America’s workers. The campaign promise is vague in a way that’s unsettling. Is he appealing to his democrat base, or is this a vision of things to come? Of course, there are also elements within Canada that believe we got the raw deal on NAFTA. Perhaps if all parties meet on the basis of a shared distrust of the agreement, some common ground can be found and a better NAFTA will result.

No matter what Obama’s actions as president we’ll be, it’s a sure bet that he will think of his own people first. We should ask nothing less of our own parliament. However, we should take solace in the fact that he got to where he is right now by listening to the people around him, rather than just hiding behind his talking points. Where his opponents demanded obedience, he demanded inventiveness and passion. If he invites Canada to join in his plans for the future, he will do it by trying to inspire that same inventiveness and passion. Even if he turns out to be an adversary to Canada’s interests, the only way we’ll do right by Canada is if we respond with a strong vision of Canada and our place in the world. Either way, we come out with the Canada we wish for.

The Canadian Election, Same As It Ever Was

After a month of salacious tv ads, accusations from all sides, and 300 million dollars we have achieved…absolutely nothing! Actually I think everyone got what they wanted in this election. The Conservatives have more seats, but still a minority which is what most of Canada wants anyway. I don’t think the Conservatives have themselves to congratulate for their 19 new seats. The Liberal party’s media presence, at least in the west, was next to nothing. I think many people voted for their Conservative MP candidate just so Harper would get out of that goofy sweater vest and stop attempting to smile. However, it’s more likely that the Liberals have done nothing to shake the image that they only care about Ontario and Quebec. Not only that, if you have a place like BC with bad memories of a provincial NDP government, we are left with no centrist alternative to vote for.

Now, I’m not saying that Canada is going through a new phase of Reaganomics, Thatcherism, or any other variation “Big government=Bad, No taxes=Good” philosophy. It’s just nice to know that we can pay for the kind of services we expect from the government without burdening future generations. We love the idea that we can get our medicine, military and employment insurance without running a deficit. The Conservatives bring this ideal to the table, but it doesn’t cover other issues that Canadians are concerned about, like the environment or poverty. The other parties were very passionate about these issues, but offered little information as to how their strategies would work without bankrupting the country.

The Liberals “Green Shift” plan that cost them so much seats could have been a blessing if they had simply published some data on how it would work. It could have created jobs and spurred innovation in many industry sectors, but we wouldn’t have known that because the other parties had control of the plan’s image. The average commercial webserver can send out the equivalent of the library of congress in a matter of hours. It shouldn’t be a stretch publish white papers, datasets, or bill drafts of any kind.. The Liberals chose to respond by repeating themselves rather than provide more detail, like they were guarding the plans for the atom bomb. The rumour mills provided by the NDP and Conservatives were able to build on that uncertainty until both parties had gained seats in the election.

I want to point out a recent article in the Boston Globe about the nature of rumours. Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology studied over 280 internet discussion groups to find out how rumours were born, spread, and killed. They found that rumours are based on a genuine attempt to find the truth. If you want to fight a rumour, first you cannot deny it if it’s true, and if it’s not true, make sure the truth is more vivid than the lie. The Democrats in the US are unwittingly putting these conclusions to the test in the forthcoming presidential election. Some Republican supporters have literally accused Barack Obama of being the Anti-christ. The website fightthesmears.com, along with the shear volume of information being published about the Democratic candidate are strategies dedicated to producing that more vivid truth. Forget the man’s stance on international trade. If he wins in two weeks, this will be a new chapter on how to use media to in politics. The internet has shrunk the costs of communication by exponential factors. No one will be interested in a repeated lie when the truth can be repeated just as easily. Candidates no longer be able to win elections based on hearsay and conjecture, but by communicating the most comprehensive vision of prosperity for all of their voters.