The claims of election fraud in Iran and resulting civil unrest have given rise to a conspiracy theory which is making its way through the internet: The claims of Iranian election fraud are an Israeli-created hoax spread by manipulating Twitter.
The first reference to this conspiracy theory that I can find, and a driving force behind its spread, is a website called Charting Stocks.
On June 15, 2009, Charting Stocks ran a post titled Proof: Israeli Effort to Destabilize Iran Via Twitter:
The core of the theory is that soon after the Iranian election, Twitter was filled with allegations of fraud and calls to contest the election. The author asserts that three Twitter accounts were responsible for thousands of tweets (although the author does not state what percentage of total Iran-related tweets were by these three accounts). The conspiracy is revealed, according to the author, by his discovery that all three Twitter accounts were mentioned in a Jerusalem Post Blog post on June 14 about how Twitter, Facebook and bloggers were posting minute-by-minute updates about the situation in Iran. The Post mentioned the three Twitter accounts as being from Iran.
But Charting Stocks discovered, it says, that the three Twitter accounts were not Iranian. From this discovery, the author reached the conclusion that there was proof that “Right-wing Israeli interests are engaged in an all out Twitter attack with hopes of delegitimizing the Iranian election and causing political instability within Iran.”
Were these legitimate Iranian people or the works of a propaganda machine? I became curious and decided to investigate the origins of the information. In doing so, I narrowed it down to a handful of people who have accounted for 30,000 Iran related tweets in the past few days. Each of them had some striking similarities –
1. They each created their twitter accounts on Saturday June 13th.
2. Each had extremely high number of Tweets since creating their profiles.
3. “IranElection” was each of their most popular keyword.
4. With some very small exceptions, each were posting in ENGLISH.
5. Half of them had the exact same profile photo.
6. Each had thousands of followers, with only a few friends. Most of their friends were EACH OTHER.
Why were these tweets in English? Why were all of these profiles OBSESSED with Iran? It became obvious that this was the work of a team of people with an interest in destabilizing Iran. The profiles are phonies and were created with the sole intention of destabilizing Iran and effecting public opinion as to the legitimacy of Iran’s election.
This line of reasoning, as others have pointed out, makes no sense. Of course anyone concerned with election fraud in Iran likely would open a Twitter account devoted to that subject the day after the election. Such Twitterers were obsessed with Iran just like everyone else on the internet, so they were not unique.
The author makes it seem that the three Twitter accounts dominated the internet, but does not state what percentage these three accounts constituted of all Twitterers or tweets (my guess, a tiny percentage, if even measurable). Why in English, if they were Iranian? Well, if they were Israeli, why not in Hebrew? If Israelis can use English to tweet, why can’t Iranians?
The common use of “IranElection” as a keyword (Tag in Twitter parlance) is not surprising; that keyword is the most common on Twitter (at least as of yesterday). The author also demonstrates nothing posted by these three accounts that differed in any significant manner from the information being spread by the Iranian opposition itself about the elections, or by major newspapers and non-Israeli blogs.
But the conspiracy theory really falls down when one considers the necessary conclusions from the theory. The allegations of election fraud by hundreds of thousands of Iranians, including by Mir Hussein Musavi, would have to be a creation of supposed Israeli tweets. But allegations of election “irregularities” were made by Musavi on the day of the election, June 12, before these Twitter accounts were created. That night and into June 13, the entire blogosphere and mainstream media erupted with reports of election fraud, so if there were a conspiracy, everyone was in on it. And so on, and so on.
None of this, however, will detract from the conspiracy theory, anymore so than the proof that al–Qaeda carried out the 9/11 hijackings distracts from claims that Israel was behind 9/11. These conspiracies are, in this sense, incapable of disproof because every contrary fact is used as evidence that the conspiracy was really, really good.
If this conspiracy theory were limited to Charting Stocks, it would not be a big deal. But someone has been spreading the Charting Stocks conspiracy theory by posting links and re-prints throughout the internet and blogosphere. This effort includes posting links in the Comments section of widely-read blogs such as Huffington Post. Charting Stocks Twitter account has tweeted about the conspiracy repeatedly to its 800+ followers, and the original post was retweeted over 200 times. Like any good conspiracy theory, others are talking up the conspiracy as proving what they already knew about Jewish control.
Are social networking sources subject to suspicion? Of course, as almost every report citing such sources states. Do or could governments pose as someone else? Sure, and there are such allegations against the government of Iran for using Twitter to spread false information. (Ironically, one source lists Charting Stocks as being a suspected Iranian government disinformation affiliate, something I have no way of verifying or not.)
But why single out three accounts just because they were linked in a single Jerusalem Post Blog post? Why the “obsession” with proving something (the three accounts were fake) which even if true had no impact on any facts on the ground in Iran, and were mere drops in an ocean of information about Iran? It surely isn’t anti-Semitism, as the author of Charting Stocks insists he is “half Jewish”:
Disclaimer: Before I get attacked as being an Anti-Semite, you should know that I am half Jewish. Alternatively, I hope that people do not misinterpret this as some “JEWISH” conspiracy. It isn’t. These are the workings of the extreme right wing of Israeli politics. They have their own Bush’s and Cheney’s there too.
Conspiracy theorists don’t need any other reasons. The conspiracy is enough.
Update: For interesting statistics on the surge in Twitter use in Iran check out A Look at Twitter in Iran and Tweets coming out of Iran are retweeted an average of 57.8 times.