This is the website of Abulsme Noibatno Itramne (also known as Sam Minter). Comments here or emails to me at are encouraged... or follow me on Twitter as @abulsme.



June 2009

Being Careful

A note from a reader, responding to my previous post:

“Meanwhile, anybody who had remotely been paying attention online had, like I had, within the previous hour watched a vivid and explicit high resolution video of a teenage girl who had just been shot bleeding out and dying in her father’s arms.

And yes, while technically speaking the video was not authenticated with a chain of custody and an exact knowledge of exactly when and where it came from and what the situation was surrounding it. But in addition to the video itself, there were multiple reports from people claiming to have witnessed that event from different perspectives..”

– believing everything you see leaves you open to be mislead. That video and the eye-witness accounts could be from anywhere. I agree that Iran could be in the midst of an almost Berlin Wall moment but truth must tell us this, not random internet downloads.

Our views of Iran will now shrink. Iran knows the eyes of the world are upon them and they will shut out the light. We need the truth. Your page looks for the truth. Please find it.

As I mentioned later in that same paragraph:

And yes, everybody knows the way in which anecdotal stories and pictures can show something that is not actually representative of the wider situation. Duh. That doesn’t mean we have to be protected from them. Things don’t need to be beyond any reasonable doubt to be reported.

My entire point here is that everybody KNOWS that initial reports of the sort you get when you are looking at “raw” stuff coming from tweets and blogs and youtube and the like is chaotic, without full context, and subject to massive grains of salt. And yes, it is easy to manipulate opinion if you can decide which of these things gets seen and which does not, in order to show a few of the world that helps your own cause and hurts your opponents. The responsible reader sifts through the things that come in, cross references between what is heard from different places, learns what sources to trust and which not to, etc. Some of this becomes clear almost immediately. In other cases it may be days, weeks, months, years… or never… before one truly sorts out things. And one will never truly *know* what happened in some sort of absolute way… even the people directly involved will never have that whole picture.

Would having it known that the video was taken by a particular person in a particular place in an authenticated way make it more trustworthy? Maybe. When this video first came out, was there any way to really know that it wasn’t completely manufactured (unlikely) or that it wasn’t actually old footage from some previous conflict in some different place, unrelated to the events of the day (more possible), or that what you saw was real, but the context was different and who committed the act was not who you would assume it to be, but was something else (maybe). If any of those things were true, evidence to that effect would probably surface before too long.

In the mean time though, you must interpret things with the information you have, and with a healthy use of Occam’s Razor. Is it possible this wasn’t what it seemed? Certainly. And there have definitely been reports of various things over the last week that have turned out to not be true, or to not be what they initially seemed to be. To even know this means that in relatively short order, evidence surfaced contradicting the original reports and convincing people of the original error. Some other things that have been coming out will probably also turn out to be false, but it may be a lot longer before that is known. But that is what you expect out of news coming out of a chaotic situation. You get a perception of “truth” that is fluid and changes and moves as more information surfaces, and as you interpret that information using more and more inputs and you hear what other people think about the same information and you hear and evaluate their arguments. That is normal and to be expected. And is a positive feature, not something to be avoided. You make the best judgements based on the information you have, when you have it at any given moment. When you get more information, your judgements and perceptions of reality may often change. And that is OK.

A media that does not believe that anything can be reported until it is “known” with almost metaphysical certainty, is not an information source worth paying attention to, at least for this kind of news in the short term. By the time things are in that state, the world has moved on and the information is perhaps useful for historical curiosity, but it is often no longer relevant in the moment. But the person paying attention to such chaotic sources does indeed have to be very aware of the nature of these reports and evaluate them accordingly, and be open and willing to adjust perceptions based on new information that comes in. For those who do not have the time or inclination to do so… not only shouldn’t they not pay attention to these sorts of moment by moment first hand accounts, they should probably not even read a daily paper or a news weekly, they should wait a few years until some nice well researched histories come out on the topic. And even then, they shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that what they are seeing represents any sort of pure “truth”. In all of these time scales you have the same difficulties, just to different degrees and manifested in different ways.

And not to mention that any reasonably intelligent person with some critical reasoning skills and the ability to do some of their own research could make judgements on the credibility of some of these sources at least as well as the crowd doing it (badly) on TV. The bias in the major media that something is more likely to be “true” if it comes from an official source, or from someone with a title, or from someone they know and therefore “trust” is just as much a narrow and partial view of what is going on than is looking at these other direct sources and evaluating them one by one based on partial information. And most likely just as likely to be proved “wrong” in the long run.

In the case of this particular girl, if there are significant doubts that it actually happened yesterday, that she was not actually on the periphery, shot most likely by basij militia, but possibly by other pro-regime elements, has not yet been disputed. Meanwhile more about who she was has surfaced… or, to add the appropriate caveats, unverified reports have surfaced with claims about who she was that may or may not bear out to be true as additional information becomes available in the future. But it seems… for the moment… that this was what it seemed it was.

Oh, and as for our views shrinking… it was already harder to get information out on Saturday than it was on previous days. It will probably be even harder Monday. But it will be very very difficult to shut off the information flow completely. And it may be too late. Even if all contact with the outside world were cut off, the events that have been put in motion may already be unstoppable.

Or it may be able to be stopped easily by cutting off communication and then cracking down even harder.

I was speaking to someone in person about this earlier tonight. They mentioned my post where I said: “I hope for something like the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I fear that it will be more like Tiananmen in 1989.” They thought that it was looking more like Tianamen and getting worse by the hour. My response… the situation sits on a knife’s edge. It could still go either way. Every moment and every confrontation that happens, every decision made by the leaders and even by individual protestors and police officers, could push it over onto one side or another. The next hours and days will be critical.

[8:42 and 9:01 UTC – I made minor edits after posting to correct a couple of small errors on my part.]

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