I am a journalist. I am a proud member of the Milwaukee Press Club, and I've been writing and self publishing articles for the last two years. I haven't made a single dime doing it, but I AM doing it. There are a lot of people out there in my position who are just as broke and have no job, but they've chosen to take retail positions, technical writing jobs, and other various career paths because they do not want to starve. I can't fault them for that. I've been trying to do the same. Until I do, however, I feel I have a responsibility to spread information. News is like that, and usually, to be honest, I don't have much to do because the main stream media outlets pretty much have it covered. This is especially true in my chosen field of journalism: entertainment. Hell, even CNN has it's own version of Access Hollywood. But then the elections in Iran went wrong, and I found myself in a pretty weird place.
I've always been politically active, fighting Nazi propaganda on Myspace, protesting injustice vocally when I see it, and I'm always down for a debate on the meaning and purpose of equality. When reports starting coming out of Iran about what was going on, I heard about it on Twitter first. This was the first day or so, before the government crackdowns started to really get intense. The Iranians faced government opposition to their freedoms from the beginning. They had to deal with phones, text messaging, and the internet being shut down or blocked before they really had a chance to organize. Most of the Iranians protesting were students, people like me. I remember a panel discussion I went to about the movie "Persepolis", and there was a recurring theme: That Iran was getting to be more and more free these days, but under constant threat that the regime in charge could pull those freedoms at any minute. Now, it was happening.
My first instinct upon hearing about it was to turn on the news. CNN, FOX, and even my beloved MSNBC had all tuned out. Nancy Grace kept yapping about the latest "crime of the century" and her crackpot ideas, and in Iran, people started to die for their freedoms. There were mentions of "something" going on in Iran - protests and the such - and they talked about how Twitter was one of the only avenues Iranians had to get the word out. Mind you, the media here didn't really start watching Twitter so much as they tried to keep using it as a tool for their own marketing, encouraging users to follow them for "breaking news". As millions of people took to the streets of Tehran, that breaking news was "The Lakers Won!". I was disheartened.
The students I was following on Twitter were very careful not to use real names, and they always tried to confirm the information they posted. The news here could have been following them too, reporting on the violence at protests by the Iranian Republican Guard, or how proxy servers were being set up around the world to help Iranians access the internet, but they didn't. At one point, CNN sat down with pundits who wanted to compare the Iranian Election to the US Presidential race between Bush and Gore. Never mind that the events weren't really similar at all, but they needed to do what they knew, and that's present entertainment. You see, in this economy, in order to stay in business, the mainstream news has to keep providing the latest updates on John and Kate, Brad and Angelina, etc. There isn't really room for an event that could change the face of the world, like an uprising in a country that WANTS to be free, but is being held down by the boot of tyranny.
So I started posting re-tweets. That's what "RT" stands for, "Re-Tweet". It's like hitting forward on an email. At first, I retweeted the reports I recieved verbatim and cited the sources "RT @Change_for_Iran" was one of them, and it means that my source was someone with the username "Change_for_Iran". I soon learned, however, that the Iranian government was tracking these people down, beating, and sometimes killing these sources. I stopped. Now, most of the RTs I post are "from Iran", nice and anonymous. Change_from_Iran has since stated that he wants his name used in Re Tweets because the government is trying to post disinformation and attribute it to him, and this will make it easier to track what is and isn't his. That is bravery like no other, and I hope that it doesn't get him killed.
I've seen a lot of misinformation come out. There is antisemitic stuff coming out, false reports of Pro-Government rallies, the like. Of course, CNN and the rest, in the interest of "balanced coverage" are reporting this garbage just as much as the real stuff. It's like watching two mentally handicapped kids try to figure out a Rubik's Cube with half the stickers missing by candlelight. The mainstream media hasn't a clue. Meanwhile, the internet has proven to be the voice of freedom that newspapers where to Ben Franklin.
Perennial internet bad guys like The Pirate Bay and Anonymous have stepped up to the plate to help. Yes, the people that invented "Rick-Rolling" and who outed the secrets of Scientology for fun have been doing more than any government to help Iranian protesters. There's no profit to be made, but just like me, they seem to feel a sense of duty when it comes to the free exchange of information and ideas. Not that any government really COULD do much right now. The Iranian government has tried to pin the protests on the US, the UK, and Israel, but so far, President Obama has stayed, rather intelligently, out of this fight because he knows that getting involved would only make it harder for the Iranians to be heard. That takes a brain and a pair made of brass. We elected the right man.
I wake up every morning and log onto Tweedeck to see what my sources have posted. I don't know how I'll feel if they suddenly go silent, but my heart breaks just thinking about the possibility. Unlike other resistance efforts in the past, this one is happening in the public eye, if only the public knew where to look. Because our journalists aren't spreading the news, I am. When I post a message, over 500 people on Facebook see it, and thousands on Twitter following the #iranelection hash-tag. Those stories, made up of 140 characters or less, are then Re-Tweeted and re-posted by more and more people. I know some of those people are you. Thank you. This is the first time that the average citizen has been able to help others fight for their freedom, simply by aiding in their efforts to be heard. Below are some links. If you want to help, then follow the links and follow their advice. In the meantime, me, my laptop, and my iPhone will keep an eye on the news coming out of Iran, and will try to keep you up to date. Thank you all for the support, and for giving a damn when many might not.
Gonzo is God,
Michael C. Riedlinger