Hijab Stick
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Beauty and the Beast
Twitter is a bizarre place. Depending on the circumstances, it can be both immensely helpful and potentially dangerous at the same time.

A vast majority of tweets seem to fall into the "meaningless fluff" category; superficial, nonsensical and relevant to only a select few of the person's followers. Being that less than a quarter of Americans are reported to be active on this particular social media platform suggests that many conversations will end up being dominated by the more vocal and politically extreme on either end of the spectrum.

For those of us who prefer more in-depth, detailed information, Twitter seems to work best when a tweet redirects to a specific article that has the space to effectively articulate the author's point of view, and that bolsters their arguments with data from various sources.

Many do try and use Twitter to form a cogent argument or convincing narrative, but ultimately fail because a mere 140 - 280 characters is unfortunately a too limited amount of space in which to properly frame and elucidate ideas in their proper context.

So, what often ends up happening is that those on either side of a divisive issue engage in a series of pithy one-liners, appeals to emotion, short insults and back and forth name-calling, not dissimilar to a junior high school cafeteria food fight.

The main problem with this sort of conflict seems to be a lack of nuance and an incomplete understanding of complex issues from participants on both sides.

To take the most recent protests in Iran as an example...

Last week the hashtags #IranProtests and #FreeIran were both trending on Twitter during the height of the demonstrations, with people in both camps tweeting for or against their respective causes. Lost in this verbal melee was the subtle but complicated understanding that many different perspectives of the various players can be true simultaneously.

It is true that many of the protests started out peacefully as a legitimate grievance against the government on account of heavy economic hardship and inflation suffered by Iranian citizens (exacerbated by previous sanctions imposed by the US and their western allies).

It is also true that many of these largely peaceful protests were hijacked by armed violent mobs (MEK and others), trained and supported by foreign agencies, with the intention of fomenting chaos within the country.

It is true that Iran's government is currently defined as an Islamic theocracy, and its citizens would undoubtedly be freer and better served under a more democratic secular government.

It is also true that Iran is still a sovereign nation and its government is democratically elected, meaning that it has the legal mandate to use force against any group of persons rioting, resorting to violence or vandalizing property.

It is true that some of the legitimately peaceful protesters may have gotten caught between the government and the rioters and suffered injuries or been unjustly arrested because of it.

It is also true that some police officers and innocent bystanders were killed by these violent gangs.

So, when a person enthusiastically tweets that they "stand in solidarity with Iranian protestors", without understanding the intricacies of the situation there, they are doing a disservice to the truth. Are they supporting the Iranian women who refuse to wear a headscarf AND the foreign-backed gangs of violent thugs at the same time? One would hope not.

Or, when another person posts a tweet righteously condemning the rioters and foreign meddling in Iran's sovereign affairs, does this mean that they also support the theocracy, Sharia law and the oppression of woman? Not necessarily so.

The only thing these kinds of overly broad, one-sided tweets demonstrate is that the poster is either careless, lazy, uninformed and/or easily swayed by rhetoric and appeals to emotion.

What follows are some of the more egregious examples of bias, deception and outright lies in regards to the protests in Iran over the last week...

A gentleman who goes by the name of Babak Taghvaee used Twitter to post 5 videos in succession about the protests in Iran on January 2nd. According to his biography, Babak is a freelance military historian and defence analyst who was expelled from the Iranian Air Force.

Watch the following videos carefully and pay close attention to the words he uses directly above the video to describe the scene. Are the claims he makes supported by the video evidence or does he seem to be embellishing or even fabricating a narrative based on his obviously anti-Iranian government political views?

"Police trucks ploughed into crowd of peaceful protesters crushing them to death", is a very specific description of an event that is clearly not shown at any point in the video. It's hard to tell exactly what is happening in the scene, but "a police truck slowly inches its way through a crowd of angry shouting protestors" seems to be a more accurate description of the short clip. Did the truck at some point speed up and "plough into the crowd and crush people to death"? We'll never know, but it seems unlikely due to the absence of any kind of corroborating evidence from another source or eyewitness.

What is more likely, is that Mr. Taghvaee is attempting to provoke an emotional reaction by deliberately spinning a false narrative that suits his political agenda. This tweet was viewed 89,000 times, has 1400 likes and was retweeted over 2000 times.

In another dubious tweet, Mr. Taghvaee posted a video that appears to show a group of policemen on motorcycles driving around a corner.

In his written description, he claims that this was the moment that "armed Basij militias attacked peaceful protesters in an unknown city 3 hours ago". One could forgive Mr. Taghvaee for not knowing in what city this is taking place in because he lives 5000 miles away in Malta. If there was any "attacking" going on, according to what is actually shown on the video, this certainly wasn't the moment at all. Maybe this so-called "attack" came later, but we'll never know. What we do know is that this particular tweeter has a very nebulous relationship with the truth.

Here's yet another questionable example, where he uses the word "massacre" to describe the deaths of "tens of people", even though some of those who died were police officers at the hands of the violent mobs. Perhaps English isn't his first language, but propaganda seems to be his mother tongue.

More tweets by this same individual, where the video provided does not match the text description, can be found here, here and here.

In an even more incredible turn of events, people have been retweeting videos of past protests from other cities, as well as scenes from popular Iranian movies, and ascribing them to the recent events in Iran. Here is one from a protest in Bahrain from January 2011 (Bahrain protests were completely ignored by Western governments).

This video has been retweeted over 18,000 times, with 31,000 likes.

Several tweets showed the protestors as they committed acts of arson and vandalism.

If the scenes depicted above happened in your city, how would you expect the police to respond?

In another interesting series of video tweets, a man named Armin Navabi, who describes himself as an Iranian-born ex-Muslim atheist, currently living in Vancouver, Canada, does a fairly decent job of sticking to the facts in describing some videos, but often ventures into dubious territory, that supports his anti-government narrative, when the events depicted are unclear.

Did the events happen as described? Maybe, maybe not. The videos presented do not definitively answer the question. It could have been either police forces or violent protesters who were responsible for hitting the elderly woman and breaking the store windows. However, in this particular case as in many others, the author expects us only to take his word for it.

There are numerous examples of similar kinds of biased reporting on Twitter, and it's hardly surprising that a certain amount of fake news would find its way onto the Twitterverse, as it does on all social media platforms. That's why it behooves us, as consumers and disseminators of information, to be open-minded and discerning about what we see, and vigilant and judicious about what we share.

The situation in Iran, like life itself, is messy, complex, with various layers of meaning and interpretation. When a person in a foreign country tweets in support of the comparatively small group of anti-government protestors, it's important to also take into account the larger number of protests that are happening in support of the Iranian government. Perhaps the Iranian people would be better served if distant observers like ourselves would sit back and allow them the freedom to manage their own internal affairs.

And this does not even factor in the many brave women in Iran who are removing their hijabs and headscarves in protest also. There are numerous videos of women being harassed and arrested by the police for doing so. Up until recently in Iran, Islamic laws forbade women to be seen without any kind of head-covering in public. Since then, the laws seem to be relaxing. Surely, no person of good conscience would deny Iranian women the freedom to dress in secular fashion if they wish.

The problem is that all these disparate causes tend to be lumped together in the minds of armchair activists who wholly invest in one side or the other, without fully understanding the bigger picture. And when a large number of people in one country are manipulated into believing and propagating lies, it allows their government to take action against another country for its own nefarious agenda.

This is why the spread of false information on Twitter can be potentially dangerous.

We are told to study the history of Nazi Germany to avoid the atrocities of Fascism. We are well advised to study the history of Stalinist Russia to avoid the horrors of Communism. In the same vein, we all could benefit by studying the more recent history of America's intelligence agencies meddling in the affairs of foreign countries in order to undemocratically install puppet regimes favourable to the interests of the US Military Industrial Complex.

Take for example what has happened recently in countries like Syria, Egypt, Libya, Ukraine, and others. The game goes like this - identify a country of strategic importance in regards to resources and geography that has the audacity to consider itself an autonomous sovereign nation, and use whatever underhanded trick possible to undermine and destabilize its government.

Tactics include economic sanctions, disseminating propaganda, making up stories of WMD's, funding and arming mercenaries inside and outside the country to form rebel opposition, fomenting a colour revolution, instigating a coup, installing a pro-US puppet regime, and as a last resort, invading and/or bombing the country to smithereens, reducing its infrastructure to rubble and condemning its citizens to years of poverty and suffering.

This is the standard American modus operandi when dealing in foreign relations with recalcitrant governments. And make no mistake, this is the same playbook presently being used in Iran. Regardless of the many legitimate reasons for the current protests, the neocons and warhawks who compromise the deep-state within the US government are using these protests as a pretext to try and isolate, cripple and ultimately topple Iran's current clerical regime.

They won't succeed because the US has used this MO too many times already, and other countries are now wise to these kinds of manipulations. But that won't, of course, stop the 'regime changers' in Washington from trying.

So, in this information war, before blindly taking one side over another, try and keep in mind the many variables involved.

Your tweets have power. Many people will read them, be influenced by them and retweet them to their followers.

If you're going to record a live event and want to use Twitter as an effective medium, be accurate and concise. Do not lie, twist or embellish. Use precise language. Describe exactly what you see in clear, unambiguous terms. Put biases and agendas aside and tweet only what is real and true.

For breaking news and ongoing updates of current happenings, Twitter can be an excellent tool for allowing its users access to points of view of events on the ground in real time. But because there is no objective filter or qualitative measure for the reliability of data presented, events can be framed in such a way as to mislead and manipulate the reader with deliberate disinformation. This is why using careful discernment to properly fact check sources is paramount when retweeting anything on its newsfeed.

Adhering as close as possible to objective reality is to align oneself with truth, as only the truth can set us free.