Crowing over the hollow victory of crashing some Iranian websites
Social media activist Josh Koster gets to tell Esquire about his brave, mighty action of clicking a few links to help out people in Iran who were staring down thuggish riot ‘police’ and not sitting at their computers all weekend like he was:
I’m pretty sure someone important once said something about evil winning when good people do nothing. It seemed, at least to this (somewhat liberal, somewhat skeptical, but not emotionally so) activist, that the evil in Iran had begun to win because the watchdogs were acting like lapdogs. So I decided it was time to cut off the flow of false information and force them to, you know, report. If Ahmadinejad’s propaganda machine stopped functioning, maybe the truth would start to. Twitter can stop and start at the same time.
The link that I repackaged and distributed on Twitter this week was to a tool called PageReboot.com. It does exactly what you’d expect it to do: refresh whatever Web site you want at whatever frequency you set. Sure, the site’s intentions center more on winning eBay auctions than, say, affecting the outcome of a democratic election, but democracy’s a loose term in Iran. All people had to do, then, was click my link and leave it open, and the lie-spewing servers of The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) would be slammed 3600 times an hour.
So anyway, my tweet didn’t take long to catch on. (I work in political new media, so the people I interact with online really know how to make some noise.) And it didn’t take very long for the IRIB site to start slowing down. So I tweeted about it, and emailed a few friends in the new-media world, who retweeted it out of courtesy and (somewhat mischievous) human decency. By sundown, our army of not-quite-hackers had swelled to forty or so, and just like that, the official news site of Iran was gone for a few hours.
A few repackaged tweets later, and the Ayatollah’s Web site was gone. So was was Ahmadinejad’s.
This is kind of like doing a victory lap while the horse you rode at the track gets sent to the dog food factory. It comes from a guy who said “someone” once said “something” about looking the other way in the face of evil.
Koster’s action (done by many others pseudonymously, anonymously, and otherwise, as I noted in this blog post) did victoriously take down a few websites. And what a hollow victory THAT was.
For starters, few people actually read the websites that Koster and co. worked to bring down. Less than 20,000 unique visitors a month go to IRIB, and laughably few ever visit the sites put up for the Iranian president and ‘Supreme Leader’ according to compete.com. If these sites were the central organs of the Iranian propaganda operation, not many people were getting the message.
Second, Ahmadinejad.IR and Leader.IR are both back online. So a lot of good that did. Another propaganda organ, PressTV (in English), has this report on their website (approx 100k UVs a month if you’re curious) for Thursday about bomb plots that were supposedly foiled in Iran on election day:
The terrorist suspects have reportedly confessed to “having connections with elements of the intelligence service” of Israel, IRIB quoted the Intelligence Ministry as saying in a statement on Thursday.
According to the statement, one of the terror groups had planned to blow up prominent Hosseiniyeh-Ershad and al-Nabi mosques in Tehran on election day.
The report comes as Iran faces a range of post-election protests over the results of its presidential election.
Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who suffered a crushing defeat in the disputed poll, has backed the right of his supporters to peaceful protests.
Meanwhile, Iranian protesters, mostly kids, have been shot, and several have died. I guess they weren’t reading Iran’s propaganda websites during the weekend. The country’s election seems far from being sorted out, and even if it is changed up, the Islamic Republic, where politics is subject to theocratic approval, will continue to be the Islamic Republic.
Last, there is the precedent that his actions sets up. Esquire’s editors demonstrate how in over their heads they are on this story by not even asking Koster to address this question.
Josh pretends that instead of doing nothing in the face of evil, he and his click-happy buddies did something (and as I’m trying to show above, he really did absolutely fucking nothing). But what he’s really doing is boasting publicly that he brought down a bunch of websites. Aside from wondering whether or not that’s legal, I’ll say categorically that I find it unethical and immoral. When Georgia went to war with Russia in 2008, psychotic Russian nationalist hackers took to their social networks and brought down a bunch of Georgian websites, too. President Obama just called that out in a speech on cyberwarfare. But at least those assholes were smart enough to not go out in a major Russian magazine and boast about how they smoked Georgia’s networks. They understand that it would cast a long shadow over Russia’s diplomatic efforts around the world. Koster and company don’t seem to care.
So hey, thanks a lot, Josh. When America gets into a diplomatic kerfuffle with someone else in the world who is wired, and their ’solidarity-showing’ techno-wizards succeed in crashing as many government servers or media outlets as they possibly can, I’ll post a link to your sickly victory lap in Esquire to remind the world about the double standarded footing we’re on.
(And Esquire editors, if you’re still reading, how about you let someone post a rebuttal to Koster’s badly reasoned article? I’m too modest to propose myself, instead I’ll encourage you to get in touch with Evgeny Morozov who is actually an expert in how the Internet works in overseas political movements.)