Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Green Out

Yesterday on twitter this sentence came up quite frequently,

#helpiranelection - show support for democracy in Iran add green overlay to your Twitter avatar with 1-click -

and a lot of people's avatars went slightly green.

I thought it was quite a nice idea, so I did it too, but as with most things done on the internet by more than three people, it came with the unavoidable slew of cynicism. So I thought I'd take a second to defend the green out.

The argument against it seems to be quite simple - 'How is making your avatar green going to change anything? What's the point?!' Now obviously this is not going to directly bring an honest democracy to Iran. If it was as simple as pressing a button I think someone would have done it by now. But it's a simple show of support, a way to get the word out and to keep people talking about something important. That's the way the world works - you keep people talking and solutions are at least looked for. If you let things go quietly then they're forgotten about.

I saw one tweet that said 'It won't help etc etc, remember the blackout, did that work?'

The blackout was a similar movement on twitter whereby people just used a black square instead of their usual picture to protest against a new law in New Zealand, which meant people could have their internet cut off if accused of piracy... Not convicted; accused. No trial, no judge, no jury.

Now, not living in New Zealand I didn't really follow the story, but in answer to the question 'did the blackout work?' You have answered it yourself - it worked because you remember it. The point of the blackout was to spread the word and gain support, not so the PM of New Zealand would check his twitter and say 'Oh shit, look at all these blacked out avatars, I better not pass that law!' Just like the regime in control in Iran are unlikely to hand over power based on some pictures being tinged green, but that doesn't mean it's worthless.

The green out is a minuscule part of what's going on, but it took five seconds and cost me nothing, so why moan about it? Here's something else that makes no difference - going to a protest in the street. If you lived in Iran and you had to decide between staying at home and going out to a protest, you would know that your decision alone would not affect anything, it's far too small a choice. But a lot of people made that choice and this was the result.

Sorry if you don't care about this, it just annoys me when people hate bandwagons whatever they're about. I heard someone say once they weren't going to get an organ donor card because it was just another bandwagon. Never mind that that bandwagon could save lives. Mental.

One final thought - it's nice to see the generation of people politicised during the last US election following through and talking about the election in Iran, which is far less cool because Barack Obama isn't involved.

EDIT: thanks to Laura for mentioning in the comments, another thing you can do to help is change your twitter time zone (in settings at the top) to GMT +3:30 Tehran, the idea behind this is that it makes it harder to identify those actually twittering from within Iran. I must confess I have no idea how effective this is, but I've done it myself because why not?!


Dave Moulton said...

I think the "green" helps because Iran citizens will see how many ordinary people in the world and especially the US,are supporting them. That must be a good thing for our future relationship with that country.
David @exframebuilder

Anonymous said...

My sentiment exactly.

I think the problem is that some people don't want to do it because they think they'll be seen as "doing it because everyone else is." If they don't want to do it, it's fine, but not doing it because they don't want to be seen as bandwagon jumpers is just a bit silly. And if people have done it to jump the bandwagon, at least it's one more supporter and hopefully someone who knows or will learn about the issues because of it.

I did it because a way for me to express my support, and it required little or no personal expence. Nevermind who else had done it. And I quite like green. But mostly the support.

Anonymous said...

As far as those tweets being a case of me saying 'oh it's a bandwagon, better go against that', if you knew me, you'd know that's anything but the case. My main aim in those tweets was just to highlight why i wasn't going to do it, despite obviously supporting democracy in iran, but also that not doing it didn't make me a bad person, or didn't mean i was anti democracy. I just wanted to point out the futility and the fact that many people are turning their avatars green without even knowing what was going on in Iran just because everyone else was. And, undoubtedly as with the blackout, it would be forgotten about within a few days. Not saying anything against your decision or any others' decisions to do it. Just my opinion. I know this blog wasn't purely about me, i'm not so ignorant, just wanted to add a little disclaimer to those who perhaps just thought i was being insensitive when my intention was merely to strike up a bit more discussion/debate around the whole thing
(Also, it may have come across a bit bitchy since a grown man had just started screaming and shouting at me for supposedly stealing a can of orangina 5 minutes previous).

Dom said...

Yeah, I agree with Jemma. As a side note. I didn't say that I wouldn't get a donor card because it was a bandwagon. It was that it's a big decision and I'm still not sure exactly how I feel about it. The point I was making was that people got them solely because other people were are I find that irritating and blind. I just hate people who don't have backbone enough to stick to their beliefs. You strongly believe in it, that's fine, others do it because it's a new fad and regardless of whether it's a good or bad thing, people should always form and act on their own opinions. I think people get on their high horses often however were it not as easy as clicking a button, do they care enough to do something that takes the slightest bit of effort. Ultimately I'm selfish, of course I support democracy however I don't actually care enough to try to do something about it. I am just prepared to admit that.

If I said I wouldn't get a donor card due solely to it being a bandwagon, then I'm pretty sure I was being over dramatic to make a point.

Ginger Chris said...

I agree with you, but Dom's red overlay was funnier, and my doctrine in life thus far is to always choose comedy over political activism.

Jeff Edelman said...

You said it all perfectly. I was thinking the same thing, but wouldn't have expressed it as well as you did. In general, I'm certainly somewhat of a cynic, but stuff like this really can make a difference. It is important for the people in Iran to get signals from the rest of the world that people like us support what they are doing. Things like this can truly change the world and people don't need to feel guilty that such an act is so effortless.

Dave said...

@GC It was funny, I'd probably have done that had I seen it in time!

@Jemma I hope it didn't sound like I thought not doing it makes you a bad person, because that would be outrageous!
And you're right - I'm sure some people will see it and do it themselves without looking into it, which is stupid. But there will be some people who see it and then find out why people are doing it. I guess what annoys me is when whole ideas get slated when the only problem is people going along with them just because everyone else is - that doesn't make the idea is pointless.
I know you weren't saying that, I was reading the trending topics before I wrote this, rarely a good idea!

Laura said...

excellent. there is also a second twitter-based movement in which supporters should change their location and timezone to Tehran. It's meant to confuse and slow the efforts of the censors as they shut down Iranian twitterers.

Dave said...

Yes, I've done that now, hadn't heard when I wrote this, I'll add a sentence now. =)