I’ve been watching the internet concerning the Iranian elections lately and I have to say that the information being delivered over the net is far more interesting than what traditional media has to offer, plus it’s a lot faster too.
A few things are quite interesting about this whole thing from an geek point of view on how the so called new media is used in the conflict:
1. Easy channels of information = easy channels for disinformation. As bloggers use blogs, Twitter and facebook to spread instant updates on what’s going on inside Iran, the government sets up fake account to spread disinformation using the same channels. Keeping your bullshit filter up when going through the information spread on the various networks is mandatory to not get suckered into the false news.
2. The firewalls have eyes. While the internet is the medium to spread news in a somewhat anonymous fashion, it’s also being actively monitored and partially controlled by the government to try and track down protesters. The same goes for cellphone networks and SMS traffic. Public proxies and anonymizers can help to keep the identity of the bloggers safe, but those are being shut down as well. Governments all over the world are lobbying to limit the privacy of their civilians by forcing ISP’s to track their user’s actions on the net under the excuse of increasing security and fighting the terrorist threat. Once this is achieved there is no turning back and these tools can be used for less noble goals which is now being displayed in Iran. Keep this in mind next time politicians talk about forcing your internet provider to keep logs. Tools like Tor, Freenet, proxies and anonymizers are also imported for this reason.
3. Sometimes helping turns out to be not helping. People all over the world are trying to help the Iranian protesters using all sorts of geeky tricks. Unfortunately these tricks seem to be working more against them in some cases. Some people started DDos’ing Iranian websites. This turned out to be blocking overal internet traffic in Iran, including those of the protesters trying to get the word out. Retweeting messages of legit Iranians for example can blow their cover as Boing Boing mentions. Retweeting false information is another. Which brings us to..
4. Who can you trust? Trust is the major issue here. Can the blogger’s information be trusted? Can a website or forum be trusted, or is it a tool set up by the government to lure in the unwary? The gov has been said to set up so-called anonymous twitter-sites which simply log protesters accounts and IP’s for easy tracking. Trusting your Twitter or GMail account to a malicious website which then uses it to spam your friends is one silly mistake to make. But if your life depends on it you better be damn sure that site can be trusted before you hit the submit button.
5. The internet is supportive. All over the net support is being raised (noticed those green icons on Twitter?), rightfully or not. The underdog is always popular online and I frankly don’t have a clue yet who’s right and who’s wrong in this story, but by making such a fuss the government is certainly not looking like the good guys in this one. One thing I do know is that it’s important to allow free speech and that’s what the Iranian government is now trying to stop by blocking access to the net. It’s cool to see the Swedes at Piratebay have set up a forum which Iranians can use in full anonymity for example. I’m not linking directly to it here as it seems to be down at the moment, probably because of the increased traffic it’s getting right now, so they don’t need those few extra clicks coming from here.
Cyberwar is no longer science-fiction.
Photo by MisterArasmus, copyrighted so I’m going for fair-use here :)