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Tweets, lies and videotape

July 23, 2009

[crack3.jpg]Mehdi Akhavan-Sales asked in his century-defining poem Qasedak (banned under both the Shah and Khomeini, and sung soaringly and clandestinely by Shajarian in this low-quality video): ‘What news have you brought me? Is there news still left somewhere?’

Below, a compilation of rumors and falsehoods—cross-checked as exhaustively as time and resources allowed—that expanded the cloud of disinformation during the post-election protests in Iran. You don’t just kill the truth when you report or forward unsubstantiated, unverified, unconfirmed and dangerously overblown rumors on a green-tinted avatar: you put protesters’ lives in danger and jeopardize their efforts.

1. ‘Mousavi is under house arrest,’ as seen on CNN, Haaretz, and Brazil’s O Globo. FACT: Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi’s wife, denied that he had been detained or put under house arrest.

2. Unconfirmed reports say ‘as many as 150 dead,’ as seen on Facebook. CNN International repeated this verbatim from Facebook in its coverage. FACT: The number of dead is still unconfirmed. Some have counted between 15-20, others 20-50. Amnesty International said it was ‘perilously hard’ to verify the casualty tolls. Amnesty’s Iran researcher Drewery Dyke: ‘The climate of fear has cast a shadow over the whole situation. In the 10 years I’ve been following this country, I’ve never felt more at sea than I do now. It’s just cut off.’ Note: In addition to its obscurantist strategy about assassinating protesters the Iranian government was quick to blame the deaths on protesters themselves.

3. ‘3 million marched in Tehran the day after election.’ What started the rumor (circulated widely) was a claim that the Tehran municipality, run by conservative mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, estimated the number of protesters at this number. However, speaking to Fardanews, Qalibaf denied having made such an estimation. FACT: Even if you factor in the tens of thousands of Ahmadinejad supporters on the streets that Saturday, this number was never even close to being reached.

4. ‘Army has deployed and moved in against protesters,’ as reported on Twitter. FACT: The army was never deployed.

5. ‘Basiji is trying to recruit door to door,’ as reported on Twitter (‘in south of #Tehran !!! – means they are weak! ???’). FACT: Unfortunately this was untrue; their own strength in numbers could be depended on.

6. Deaths in front of embassies, ‘people r dying,’ as reported on Twitter. FACT: Totally unsubstantiated hearsay.

7. ‘Helicopters releasing some kind of chemical on protestors’ in Tehran on June 20, 2009, as reported on Twitter by user @iranriggedelect. Picture here. The photo was actually a Czech roundel helicopter. ‘Way to be bad,’ replied another Tweeter.

8. Terrorists among protesters,‘ as reported by Iranian television including Press TV. The photo seen here was used to suggest that protesters were carrying guns. In fact, Getty Images’ image shows an ardently foolish, harmful, if not completely crazy, man holding a toy gun. (It is worth noting that the Pentagon’s stance toward protests—that they are a ‘low-level’ form of terrorism—is very close to the Iranian government’s position.

9. Showing video footage of previous day’s (or days’) protests in same-day broadcast. CNN International could have its own falsification page in this category: it showed video footage from other days purporting to be on same day (when protest activity was low, for example), as I documented here. On CNN and Facebook, unverified Youtube videos were distributed as ‘major protests’ from days when such protests were never even announced.

10. Again, CNN truly deserves its own category. Its broken Twitter links lead to nowhere, as in Techcrunch’s ‘CNN Loves Twitter, But Doesn’t Seem To Always Know How To Use It‘ and some Twitter users’ creation of a #cnnfail hashtag.

11. My personal favorites—and by favorites I mean making me wish out loud for a vomit icon on Twitter—were the total lies about foreign fighters (i.e. dark, Arab) recruited to battle Iranian protesters. ‘Hamas is crushing dissent in Iran’ as reported by two protesters to the Jerusalem Post. ‘Ask anyone, they will tell you the same thing. They [Palestinian extremists] are out beating Iranians in the streets… The more we gave this arrogant race, the more they want… [But] we will not let them push us around in our own country.’ The ‘Arabs hurting Iranian protesters‘ line was repeated:

12. ‘The rumor about Hezbolah & Hamas helping Basij, until today I never believed it but I saw them today with my own eyes / they wear black riot police outfit, brown skin and shouting to people in Arabic & hit everybody they see / State Police Force comfirms the plain-clothes and black-masked militia are from Palestine and Lebanon and have diff. orders,’ as reported in the Tweets of Andrew Sullivan. (He forgot to mention that Mousavi had a hand in creating Hezbollah during its most polemic phase.)

Here’s CNN’s version: ‘Iran’s volunteer paramilitary forces known as ’Basij’ have added some Arabic-speaking members suspected of being Hezbollah fighters‘ (see Algarabia’s documentation, in Spanish)

Robert Fisk says he was awakened in bed by reporters asking about Arab foreign fighters causing destruction in Tehran. He vehemently denied it.

FACT: One of the best short histories and responses to this outlandish (and cheerfully racist) line comes from Open Anthropology’s Max Forte in ‘U.S. Democracy Promotion in Iran‘ who I will quote at length: ‘The [Foundation for Democracy in Iran] is one of the first, if not the first, source of the allegations that Hezbollah fighters have been imported by Iran to beat protesters — as “proof” it provides two photos under the 18 June 2009 entry on its site, showing a few unremarkable fellows standing in front of the camera, some against a backdrop consisting of a sign written in Farsi. That’s it. We do not know who they are, where they came from, whether or not they are actually Lebanese or even anywhere in the Middle East, the date of the photos, their location and, most importantly, we do not see them anywhere near any protesters. This has not stopped people from seeding Twitter in an attempt to misinform and alarm, presumably with a hope of generating a rift between Iranians and their nation’s allies, while furthering the cause of both Israel and the U.S. (this tweet takes us to this blog post, which uses the FDI photos and then adds allegations of Hamas involvement — courtesy of the Jerusalem Post of course — and from that blog we are taken to a presumably Iranian dissident blog that repeats the allegations. Note that while accompanied by visual materials, no photos of these mysterious Hezbollah and Hamas people engaged in anti-protest action are ever supplied, and corroborated).’

I outline just 12 widely circulated cases, but there were many, many more. I leave the conclusion open-ended. (But let it not go unsaid how invisible and ignored were the many thousands and millions of Hondurans, Uighurs, Palestinians and others in the meanwhile.)

(With thanks to 3arabawy, Alireza, and Algarabia0. Art by A1one.)

Comparative democratic fruits: Honduras v. Iran
Stonethrower v. stonethrower

40 Comments leave one →
  1. fbid permalink
    July 23, 2009 15:43

    a post-script to #11 (re:jerusalem post) – their reporter, sabina amidi, was a second-year sarah lawrence undergrd in iran (she left about a week after the election). while she could very well have established a deep network of knowledgeable contacts in tehran who wish to remain anonymous(including, in her latest scoop, a basiji who freely admitted to raping prisoners), i can’t help but feel that her reports consistently echo many of unsubstantiated but widely circulated rumours you hear among tehranis about the regime, which are passed along through broken telephone until one person’s sighting of a dark-skinned man becomes an army of arabs doing the regime’s dirty work. not that the jpost was ever known for its credible reporting, but still.

  2. lidia permalink
    July 23, 2009 15:49

    if protesters were NOT armed, then WHO killed 8 Basij? Or they were not killed?

    So-called “colour revolutions” oftet praised as “non-violent” but usually they are not so (see Serbia)

  3. July 23, 2009 18:02

    wiiiiish woooosh only 15 people are killed. that’s cheshme gaav. how come wiiiish wooooosh they increased the number to 150? wooooosh wooooosh that’s too much increase baba. poor government of iran only killed 5 taa. bebin to dahaneto beband. sho’oore siaasi nadaari.

  4. July 23, 2009 18:30

    People are being murdered and tortured in Iran and I don’t care if the white man’s info is not as accurate as it should be.

  5. July 24, 2009 02:42

    Who ever you are, I guess you don’t have connections to Iran, hence you spend too much time on twitter!!

    Dude, for most of us, it’s a very CLOSE to home, it’s a fact, a reality.

    GET IT???

  6. lidia permalink
    July 24, 2009 03:05

    Hashemi Rafsanjani (a REAL one) did his own torture and murder in Iran, so I guess not ALL torture and murder are bad, only one that are NOT supported by white man’s media (which is also SUPPORT murder and torture by white man, including in Iran (by CIA-founded terrorists)

  7. Jeremy permalink
    July 24, 2009 03:29

    The rumors about foreigners in Iran were not only reserved for “Arabs” “from Hizbullah and HAMAS,” but also included “Venezuelan riot police.” The rumors were fueled by right-wing media outlets online and were then picked by right-wing Zionist outlets:

    Right-wing Media & the Twitter Echo Chamber

  8. July 24, 2009 04:29

    hmmm how fascinating;
    The zionist trolls usually don’t have a blog of their own either! Now I see here that Lidia and Jeremy don’t either!

    I guess some people just like to say something for the sake of talking! alas!

  9. July 24, 2009 04:32

    I am certain you consider yourself amongst the enlightened leftist elite who is so savvy about the world! Trust me, I am one of you!

    But, HAVE RESPECT when an Iranian who’s been fighting RUMORS about Iran (visit me at tells you that the horror in Iran are REAL.
    If you spend enough time on NeoResistance, you will figure out how from a supporter of some of Ahmadinejad’s actions, I have turned into his stark opponent!

  10. July 24, 2009 07:43

    okey child, I feel you have good intensions, but you need proper education; alors: here’s one from AL Shargh Awsat!

  11. lidia permalink
    July 24, 2009 10:11

    One should not be TOO certain aboout things one knows NOTHING about- or one risks to turn being ridiculos, if one is wrong :)

    I do not like the word “elite” (or I do not like the very idea of it), so NOT, I do not see myself as such, I am only a Marxist-antiimperialist and antiZionist, and I KNOW what side Zionists at (when, of course, they are not being such pathological racists to simply wish to A-bomb EVERY Iranian).

    But I do not think that my comments were for for the sake of talking, esp. about myself.

    So, after being gross enough to put me down, I suppose naj is NOT going to answer my question, right?

    By the way, I KNOW that ASA is a paper founded on Saudi money – not the best sourse for ANY lefitst, or am I mistaken?

    The last but not least, about “how from a supporter…” I just have seen a book – about something like “6 former Commies told why they are not Commies anymore”. One of them became a Zionist and other on CIA payroll, so I guess they chose right…

  12. southissouth permalink
    July 24, 2009 11:20

    Update: CNN’s ‘various sources’ has been revealed to be… a single Twitter user. How embarrassing.

  13. July 24, 2009 11:56

    Indeed anyone who relies on twitter for drawing any kind of political conclusions (pro or con) must be unintelligent!

  14. July 24, 2009 12:04


    If you want your question re Hashemi answered, I suggest you visit my blog. I don’t have time to repeat myself to all marxists who think they are the masters of knowledge about how zionists are wrecking teh world!

    Well dear, as an Iranian, I have plenty of evidence, HISTORICAL, and even PRIOR to inception of Zionism, of how Iranians are their own worse enemies!

    Sorry, in this particular case, although Zionists and imperialists are having a party right now (to my great chagrin) but they are NOT the ones fanning these flames, UNLESS they are holding the strings of fundamentalists who are driving Khamenei and Mesbah Yazdi.

    There is a PERFECT and simple solution to this problem, and that Khamenei is NOT taking it is baffling me out of sleep! Also, just in case you are confused, AHMADINEJAD is NOT a champion of socialism! He really is NOT. He is the one who is in bed with all sorts of Imperialists … and I am sure you have heard about his controversial deputy: The Israeli-Lover who is about to get sacked by another branch of fundamentalists!! It’s a mess dear, and you cannot describe it in any simple terms. This thing taht is happening now is defying all precedence!

    Anyways I am writing a post that is addressing the concerns of people like you (who used to be my FRIENDS when were were crying Palestine) … but now, I feel abandoned by all those whom I considered “intelligent elite” …

  15. July 24, 2009 12:06

    re ASA, I don’t care who is funding it! What I care about is the Iranians who have written for it; and their integrity is apparent in the volume of their works.

  16. lidia permalink
    July 24, 2009 17:33

    Naj, I STILL have NOT get my answer, and NO, I am NOT going to read all your blog, I have another things to do, sorry. Of course, Ahmadinejad is not a socialist, but his foes are even father from socialism than he – they openly snob at poor Iranians.

    And even though you could feel bad if SOME Western leftists (and some leftists from former USSR) do not support this one more “colour revolution”, you still have a lot to be concent with – Juan Cole (the clever imperialist), the Nation (with Dreyfus who loved Shah) and others are with you. And I think you are not being fair to Zionists and imperialsits- if they are NOT so big foes of Iran (and I guess of Iraq, Palestina, Russia and so on), why not use their help? Actually, you ARE using it, without their help your “green” friends would be like Egyptian or Saudi dissidents – they are being arrested, tortured and killed WITHOUT CNN saying a word. So, be grateful to CIA, they pay for for PR of your “revolution”.

  17. Lupe permalink
    July 24, 2009 17:56

    You trust Amir Taheri, the frequently discredited hack who works for Saudi Prince Salman’s newspaper? The guy who made up a story about Iranian Jews being forced to wear a yellow star, Nazi German style? And we’re supposed to take you seriously? Not in this lifetime.

  18. Lupe permalink
    July 24, 2009 18:01

    And integrity is tied to the “volume” of one’s works? I could write 1,000 essays and make up every single fact in them. But, by your “standards,” the “volume” would mean I have “integrity.” Hilarious.

  19. July 24, 2009 19:49

    Oh my .. I am here surrounded by Ironologists!


    Good luck folks!

  20. July 24, 2009 19:50

    None of whom of course dares to come discuss anything on my blog; because well “twitter-analysis” is all the have time for! ;)

  21. Lupe permalink
    July 24, 2009 20:24

    Not really. No one here is advocating the use of Twitter, so your ad hominem is simply a falsehood. Your declaration of Amir Taheri as “reliable” is off-putting enough.

    And you’re surrounded by specialists on Iron? Wow!

  22. July 25, 2009 00:01

    made up stories of mass murder of people being axed, mowed down by machine guns, and thrown from bridges, and report them on CNN live as first-hand witnesses ( )

  23. July 25, 2009 03:08

    I don’t know what you keep bringing Amir Taheri up for!! I have linked to ONE of his articles, whose content I agree with. ASA has recently conducted an interview with Ebrahim Yazdi, and it is HIS volume of work that made me reference ASA.

    Despite the version of fantasy you wish to subscribe to, Iranians by and large are NOT Anti-Zionist; but they ARE Anti-Arab! This is an “inconvenient truth”, which the IRI has been trying to mask BECAUSE the IRI (and Iran in general) needs Arab’s hands tied with Israel (and not the other way around). And this is a topic that the intellectuals of Iran do not write about, but it is a street fact. Iranians hold a 1300 years old historic grudge; and if you want to really understand what is happening in this “revolution” now, you really need to go past your imperialist/zionist model; and look at Iran in its entire historical context. I don’t blame you for not caring to know that deeply about Iran. But I am put off by your wilfull ignorance despite which you hang on to your “author”ity!

    And if my typos are off putting, well then you are left with western-mediated/educated folks analysing “IrAn” through CNN-mediated twitters or at best second-hand experiences, which are coming through channels of various interests, but definitely NOT related to Iran’s demographic, historical and political realities.

    Anyways, unfortunately I don’t see any real informative or intellectual discourse taking place here. And what’s more off-putting is that Lupe&Lidia don’t have a page of their own where I can get an idea of what kind of background they have!

  24. Ross in NYC permalink
    July 25, 2009 03:34


    While I agree that it can be counterproductive and harmful to propagate unsubstantiated information, I find this “fact check” just as as inconclusive.

    I’m sure we are on the same page as far as being immensely frustrated by the suffocation of information, the 24/7 news cycle that splices and edits images to suit its own programming, and having to rely upon sloppy journalism written outside of Iran with no clear way to fact check the stories. This is the state of the media…

    Just as I am not willing to swallow everything I see and hear, I am skeptical about matter of factly dismissing persistent reports, and as Asad AbuKhalil and some other folks seem to suggest, point to some sort of US and Israeli plot to oversimply and minimize the events following the election as serving the interests of the US or Israel. That just sounds stupid and outlandish to me, given what I have heard from my family and friends in Iran this summer.

    The news bit that bothers me, that I cannot reconcile is about the foreign/Afghan/Arab hooligans. Over the years, I have heard from family members and friends accounts that back up the foreign riot police claims. Not having been to Iran, I cannot corroborate that claim, nor can someone with a picture of two dark people standing on a street, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand either–I want to her more about this.

    Same for reports about the army being deployed. Perhaps people are overstating what they have seen and heard, but that is not a reason to throw out the claims wholesale. My cousin told me that there were tanks in Arak after the rioting in Tehran began, but I didn’t see anything about that online.

    Finally, why can’t it be entirely plausible that a great majority of what happened didn’t make it to the public record? It was substantiated that the government hacked websites, and jammed SMS signals. What it comes down to is what we WANT to believe often guides our reading of the true events in the end. The debate on what has been happening in Iran, what information is credible, shows that quite vividly.

  25. July 25, 2009 07:24

    Don’t forget the silly rumor that was floating around involving a forged letter supposedly from the Minister of the Interior to Khamenei, and all those ridiculous charts and graphs, which I discussed in my own post about Iranian election rumors and falsehoods here.

  26. lidia permalink
    July 25, 2009 07:35

    Ross in NYC, are you aware that in Russian-language sourses, “leftists” and not there are the same rumors regarding RUSSIANS helping to subjugate Iranians. It got so outrageous, that one person, who cliams to be a participant of “orange revolution” in Ukraine, said that there were such rumors as well, but after their victory, “oranges” found it was not true (they got government’s documents to read). of course, he/she claimed such rumors (both in Ukraine and Iran) means Russia is SO bad and thus so hated. The little more logical supposition – that such rumors are PLANTED by anti-Russian and pro-USA forces, of course, was NOT discussed.

  27. lidia permalink
    July 25, 2009 07:39

    If one is really interested in my background I could provide some info, but is it not funny that Naj does NOT care about the background of his own sourses? I prefer to judge posters by their logic and facts they provide. So whether Lupe is a Marxist, or Aharchist or neither, his posts sound OK to me.

  28. Topo permalink
    July 25, 2009 11:44

    I always feel that Twitter, CNN and the likes are full of rubbish. Your report confirmed my feeling.

  29. Lupe permalink
    July 25, 2009 15:42

    You seem proud of the fact that some individuals who are anti-Arab bigots and racists. As for an “imperialist/Zionist model,” you’re the one wielding that.

    Yes, the only “intelligent” one here is you. Sure. You and Amir Taheri (and his sugar daddy, Prince Salman).

  30. Lupe permalink
    July 25, 2009 15:43


    You seem proud of the fact that some individuals are anti-Arab bigots and racists.

  31. lidia permalink
    July 26, 2009 01:49

    House of Saud is worried about Israel
    Al-Arabiyya TV (the news station of King Fahd’s brother-in-law) just broke with this headline: it said that Iranian Revolutionary Guards “are threatening Israel.” Too bad that Prince Salman, Prince Sultan, and King `Abdullah are all out of the country. Otherwise, they would all volunteer in the Israeli terrorist army, just as Rahm Emanuel did back in 1990.

  32. benevis permalink
    July 29, 2009 23:27

    this article is utter bs. there is so much more confirmed information than it gives citizen’s journalists (like you and i and everyone on facebook) credit for.

    in fact, the number of deaths has been confirmed to be over 100 for a good while now. there are even 78 faces already released and circulating. the newest information (eg torture… Read More massacres in kahrizak detention center) gives the potential for 200 or more.

    anyone who minimizes and apologizes for these crimes such as in that blog , whether intentionally or not – they are clearly the ones trying to convince us to minimize our concern and consequently reduce our efforts for change and rights , with the clear consequence of further murder and barbaric torture techniques against innocent human beings.

    just look at how the ahmadinejad agent above farzin esfandiari talks:

    “wiiiiish woooosh only 15 people are killed. that’s cheshme gaav. how come wiiiish wooooosh they increased the number to 150? wooooosh wooooosh that’s too much increase baba. poor government of iran only killed 5 taa. look you better shut up. you don’t have a brain for politics.”

    We will beat them with our “akhlaghiat” – our behavior.

  33. Babak permalink
    July 29, 2009 23:32

    You obviously don’t have the resources to do the research.

    List of confirmed martyrs up to Tuesday. 78 names are listed below.

  34. Babak II permalink
    July 30, 2009 13:52

    More Twitter “revolutionaries” show their willingness to believe anything with little to no proof, so long as it matches their biases.

  35. Thor permalink
    July 30, 2009 13:53

    Actually, what benevis says is “utter BS.” Gullible individuals are everywhere.

  36. southissouth permalink
    August 6, 2009 18:33

    The knee-jerk comments are always ignored; the boring ‘apologist’ ones are as well. As for the question about numbers dead, I cited Amnesty in my post, and if we’re on logical ground here you can see the citations are contemporary to the rumors/lies/hearsay, not added as an afterthought. If you WOULD like an afterthought, Financial Times (and Irish Times: today still reports 20 dead. I will not be pulled into a discussion about the worth of their lives, as every single one died unjustly, but neither will I be pulled away from a discussion about deliberately bad and exaggerated information meant to manipulate sentient thinkers and activists into some kind of zombie-like submission.

    My favorite comment—congratulations, you win an equator!—is about ‘resources’ in doing research such as this. Please direct your comment to CNN, NY Times, and other million-dollar corporations whose ‘resources’ consisted in not only parroting tweets from a SINGLE source, but not even having the decency to provide an unbroken link.



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