Angry mobs or groundswell? Or just paid marketing?

What do you call a flash mob that has been paid for? Think hard before you answer this.

Now let me complicate it a bit for you:

When connected to a PR campaign, we tend to see it as the evil astro-turfing. Plenty of these examples around us. Those the angry mobs showing up with signs to loudly disrupt town hall meetings as a form of protest against healthcare reform, are suspiciously PR-backed astroturfing practices. TechPresident ‘reveals’ that there is a method behind this madness.

When connected to people protesting against a stolen election, we see it as citizen action —as we saw in Iran. streets

Then there’s the third kind. When connected to marketing, the flash mob could be used to bring attention to a product in a public place. Funny how we have no problem with this, even though it also disrupts civilian life, and appears to be a spontaneous expression of the hoi polloi.

This highly choreographed event earlier this year by Saatchi and Saatchi, for T-mobile at London’s busy Liverpool Street station is a good example of how the lines are being blurred as the radius between sender and receiver gets stretched.

Twitter and the politics of Iran

Follow up to my previous post on Iran.

People have devised two ways for people caught in the middle of the crisis to anonymously post to Twitter.

In related news -related to the perceived power of Twitter over censorship — the State Department apparently asked the folks at Twitter to postpone a scheduled maintenance shutdown. According to this AP report the request was made “to keep information flowing from inside Iran amid the growing crisis over its disputed election.”

Oddly enough, as this is is being posted, Twitter is down for maintenance! On the Twitter blog, they had this to say:

“our network partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran. Tonight’s planned maintenance has been rescheduled to tomorrow between 2-3p PST (1:30a in Iran).”

As Andrew Sullivan observed in the Atlantic, The revolution will be Twittered.

Can you really block my voice?

Q: What  might Tehran and Southwest Airlines have in common?

(No, it’s not another ‘peanuts’ joke.)

A: An intolerance with passengers text-chatting online.

Dan York, a tech strategist, author and blogger discovered to his dismay that while Southwest had begun a WiFi Zone on board some of its flights, (and is big on, and well known for using Twitter,) it cut out Skype chat.

But blocking speech at 30,000 feet is the least of our worries in a world that is increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices. It took on a new dimension in Iran this week, in the aftermath of the highly contested elections.  The Associated Press reports that the government has stepped up its Internet filtering and Iranians are unable to send text messages from their phones. The Guardian had this to say:

“Mobile phone text messages were jammed, and news and social networking websites – including the Guardian, the BBC and Facebook – as well as pro-Mousavi websites were blocked or difficult to access.”

But can a government really ‘block’ people’s voices in this age of leaky media. While Twitter  is being blocked in Iran, some tweets that get through publish the addresses of proxy servers that can be accessed undetected.

Someone uploaded —to Flickr! — this screen capture (left) of tweets found using the hash tag #iranelection.

And then the opposition candidate MirHossein Mousavi has been tweeting, as we know.

Despite all this other forms of technology –including jamming –are being used to circumvent the government clampdown.

Even Arab satellite TV news station Al-Arabiya was shut down.

I don’t think we will see an end to governments trying to curb dissent using intimidation and technology, but these events are unwittingly providing those who favor democratic processes good examples of how best to adapt to the next clampdown, the next autocrat, the next crisis.