Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: July 2009 (page 1 of 2)

BREAKING NEWS: Fox News Annexes Iraq


As if Fox News didn’t distort the truth enough, now they’ve annexed Iraq too!  If they had labeled Egypt, I wonder what they might have called it…Morocco?  Seriously though, why is Fox making its own maps anyway?  Don’t they have people for that?  People who are not conservative idiots with no knowledge of the Middle East, perhaps?

On Un-Sanctioning Syria

A notable news item this morning is that of the United States’ lifting two bits of its sanctions on Syria, one of which happens to be its ban on the import/export of IT, including hardware and software (the other is on the exportation of goods to the Syrian aviation industry). Syrian envoy to the U.S. Imad Moustapha (a blogger in his own right) announced the news yesterday, stating that more sanctions will be lifted soon.

I explained the sanctions in this Huffington Post piece in April:

The Bush administration implemented sanctions against Syria in 2004, accusing the regime of meddling in Lebanese affairs, fostering the Iraqi insurgency, and supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. The sanctions against Syria in particular apply to exports and reexports, including software. Specifically, U.S. companies are prohibited from providing “operation” technology and software, “sales” technology, and software updates.

Since the sanctions were enacted, a number of Web-based companies have had to carefully examine their terms of service and restrict users from accessing certain areas of sites. Google, for example, allows Syrian users to access Gmail and iGoogle, but not Google Gears or Gmail video chat. Facebook, though filtered by Syrian ISPs, offers Syria as a location option, and allows users to access its services. Only companies such as Amazon.com, which sells books and other products by mail, and GoDaddy.com, which offers domain names, have been forced to prohibit Syrian use altogether. The blog ArabCrunch offers more details on other social networking sites that implement sanctions.

The lifting of the IT ban seems, to me, to be low-hanging fruit, the simplest way to please (or appease) the public while getting rid of a relatively useless rule that wasn’t doing much good anyway, given the ease and proliferation of people downloading software while out of the country, or sharing it with one another on USB keys and CDs. Moreover, it affects ordinary Syrians more than anyone – those who want to use Google Earth or buy an iPhone – isolating the online population even further (Syria, of course, blocks a number of sites of its own accord).

It will be interesting to see if the lifting of the IT sanctions has any effect on the Syrian government’s Internet filtering, which seems to be easing in minor ways (friends report some ISPs are filtering less than others, and that the mobile web is still entirely unfiltered).

On a side note, I’m saddened, though not surprised, by the comments on the Jerusalem Post article on the subject (which happens to be only one of six indexed by Google News, and certainly the most prominent publication in the list). The comments, mostly from self-identified Jews, both American and Israeli, are full of bigoted sentiments toward Obama, false claims that he’s either not American or is Muslim, and ridiculous assumptions about how lifting the ban will result in sanctions being lifted from Iran and North Korea. It’s just tiring to see the same old comments lumping Syria in with those two countries, when it so clearly doesn’t belong there.

On Holding Bloggers Accountable

Post-script: As my friend and colleague Ethan Zuckerman points out here, the New York Times does in fact have more of a responsibility than the Iranian blogger who reported on this story. I do still believe that we need to hold bloggers accountable as well, but in taking into consideration the fact that The Lede blog is doing precisely the same work as Global Voices – and GV’s doing it substantially better, with a volunteer staff of local “experts” – I too am going to call out Mackey for his irresponsibility.”

Enough people have discussed this with me over the course of the past two days that I feel compelled nearly to issue a statement. Given that I’m not nearly famous enough to do so, I will instead blog my thoughts on the issue.

The issue at hand, of course, is the New York Times’ alleged accusation that Hossein Derakhshan is collaborating with the Iranian government in a battle against Iranian opposition bloggers. The story goes something like this: The New York Times’ Lede Blog, written by Robert Mackey, has been liveblogging the protests (and by liveblogging, I mean they’ve mostly been quoting bloggers and tweeters, and rather poorly at that) happening online and on the ground in Iran. They’ve made all sorts of missteps along the way, the most recent being an accusation that Derakhshan is a government agent. Following a comment from GV’s Solana Larsen, Mackey edited the story for clarity, leaving in the quotes from Iranian bloggers which state Derakhshan to be working for the wrong side. The bit currently reads:

After we published that previous blog post on Mr. Derakhshan, one of our readers, Javad Ghorbati, commented:

it also should be stated that many internet-based Iranian communities are sceptical and puzzled about Hossein Derakhshan (aka Hoder) work and his relationship with the Iranian authorities. There is a silent agreement within them that Mr. Derakhshan may have been employed by the Iranian authorities to collect information on internet-based Iranian activists during recent years when he was heavily involved with developing the Iranian blogosphere. As it is widely reported, Iranian Revolutionary Guard which is known as the core of the Iranian intelligent service has been recently involved with creating a new division for surveillance of the political websites and weblogs on the religious and national security grounds and many Iranian believes that Hossein Derakhshan might have some involvement with the new division.”

While there is no evidence to support the rumor that Mr. Derakhshan is cooperating with the authorities in their battle against Iran’s opposition bloggers — and the people running the online campaign to free Mr. Derakhshan vehemently deny the rumor — the fact that some Iranian bloggers are again talking about this possibility seems to indicate that the “cyber army” set up by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has helped to stir up paranoia and fear in that community.

Mackey also issued a statement that reads:

* Note: The 1:19 p.m. update was revised to clarify that we know of no evidence to support the rumor that Mr. Derakhshan is cooperating with Iran’s authorities. We reported that the rumor exists mainly to emphasize that as Iran’s authorities seek to use online tools to fight back against opposition bloggers, fear and suspicion are rife.

First of all, let me say that it is absolutely absurd – as well as stupid and dangerous – for anyone to make such libelous accusations, based on nothing but hearsay.

I don’t believe, however, that it was Robert Mackey’s intent to make any accusations at all, rather, the blame should be placed on the blogger he quoted, particular given his eagerness to correct his post in the wake of Solana Larsen’s comment.

What I do wonder is: Why are we blaming Mackey – a journalist with no real connection to or experience with Iran – and not the blogger he quoted.

This piece for Global Dashboard places all of the blame on Mackey as well, without even mentioning the blogger who wrote the post.

In response, Ethan Zuckerman points out on Twitter that, “While there is no evidence to support the rumor that Mr. Mackey of the NYTimes manufactures stories, it IS being discussed on Twitter.”

To be fair, Ethan makes another point which I agree with: That Mackey needed to be more cautious about amplifying that particular blogger’s voice without balancing it. Which brings me to why I’m so angry in the first place…Mackey is a blogger, not a journalist, in this current role. He is bridge-blogging, just as we do at Global Voices, between amateur bloggers and a major source of online news. So yes, he has a responsibility to make sure that the voices he is amplifying are not extreme – but we, as readers, also have a responsibility to go back to the source and judge the statement by the blogger who wrote it – and not necessarily blame the messenger.

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