Back in the 1980s there was a sit com on British TV called ‘The Young Ones’, which was based in a student house and followed the surreal adventures of the students who lived there. One of the characters was a rather pompous, arrogant, wannabe anarchist called ‘Rick’, who was constantly going on about revolution, and whose ratherfatuous comments about politics gave rise to the title of this piece…
As my life unfolded and I became involved in left-wing politics in teh 1980s, I encountered a fair number of ‘Ricks’ – folks who were full of talk about how we should pass a resolution condemning some organisation or country or other for their actions but who were surprisingly absent when it came to the grunt work of winning elections to put ourselves in a position where we could at least effect change.
And Ricks are still with us today, in the electronic world. I came across this piece from the Telegraph – ‘The fatal folly of the online revolutionaries’ and was reminded of the posturing of Rick and the other Ricks I have known. The bottom line is that the Iranian Security Services now carry out ‘deep packet inspection’ of a lot of Internet traffic, which allows them to see where traffic originates from and where it’s going, as well as content. Which means that if someone in the West sends a supportive email message, a one to one Tweet, converses by MSN – it increases the chances of the Iranian authorities identifying the recipient and taking action. Much of this sort of intelligence work relies on a lot of traffic between ‘targets’ that can be identified and analysed.
So, being a slightly thoughtless, well-meaning, armchair revolutionary encouraging someone in Iran to take action against the Government via personal message can get someone at the sharp end killed or imprisoned. Real life, as they say, is a bitch. A recent retaliation against Twitter probably got more news footage than many of the deaths that take place in these riots, which tells us something about the priorities of our own news services. A further piece about ‘Twitterised Revolution’ is here.
Now, this doesn’t mean that support cannot be offered – it means that we just have to redress the balance of risk. And activity should not be mistaken for effective action. My initial thoughts:
- There are folks in Iran (and other more authoritarian and totalitarian regimes than our own) who are risking life and limb to get video footage and stories out of of their countries, and succeeding. If you’re wanting to help the cause, when you come across this stuff promote it via your own Social Media sites, blogs, etc. Take a look here.
- Campaigns like the recent one to turn your avatar green for Iran are great for awareness raising. And they don’t impact individuals ‘over there’ but offer visible support to users of the services.
- Work within the laws of our own country, and via the political processes here (wherever here might be for you!) to raise awareness, find out what your own Government is doing and vote accordingly next time around if you don’t like it. Engage with your elected representatives to put pressure on at a Governmental level.
By engaging directly with people ‘on the ground’ in these regimes, encouraging illegal activity, you might get someone killed. You will almost certainly do less good than if you work within your own country. The folks out there can do with our moral support and the indirect support of our Government and media – they can probably do without armchair revolutionaries throwing virtual bombs and pissing off the local authorities who then retaliate with real bullets.
Sitting back and engaging in the above suggested activities may not be sexy or cool, it may even be regarded by some as cowardly – but if you want to play at being Rick, just think about the consequences for those on the other end of the connection. Don’t forget that the aim of the game is to effect change for those people, not provide Westerners with vicarious thrills.
(Image from From http://www.antiauthoritarian.net)