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What America Has Learned From Iranian Social Media – BNN

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(Bloomberg Opinion) — Most Americans have no idea who Nahid Shirbisheh is. But in Iran, she has become a powerful symbol of resistance. A little over a year ago, she witnessed her son’s murder at a government protest in Tehran. Last month she released a video made at the location of his killing that went viral in Iran.

When I spoke to her last month, she surprised me by thanking the Trump administration. “They mentioned my son’s name and my own name and they supported my voice when my son was killed and I was in prison,” she said.

President Donald Trump’s Iran policy was designed mostly to coerce the regime into a better nuclear deal than the one it joined in 2015. U.S.-imposed sanctions were not meant to pressure Iran’s rulers to release political prisoners or to allow a referendum on the powers of the supreme leader, as Iranian activists have been demanding for years. Even if Trump’s policy had succeeded, which it didn’t, Iranians would still be stuck with their oppressors.

That said, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called out the regime’s human-rights abuses. He has highlighted its corruption and told the stories of its dissidents and victims. Most intriguing, he has empowered a small staff at the State Department to use Iranian social media to help craft U.S. public diplomacy with Iranians.

This is where Shirbisheh comes in. A year ago, Pompeo mentioned the murder of Shirbisheh’s son, Pouya Bakhtiari, at a little-covered event on human rights in Iran. The State Department made sure that the speech was translated and promoted on the U.S. Farsi-language social-media accounts.

This new approach owes a lot to Mora Namdar, an Iranian-American Pompeo met in 2018 in Dallas. A lawyer by training, Namdar was hired that year as an adviser to Brian Hook, the U.S. envoy to Iran. Namdar and a social media guru named Len Khodorkovsky soon took over the State Department’s Farsi-language Instagram and Telegram accounts, using them to gauge which messages resonated with the Iranian public.

Pompeo’s mention of Bakhtiari was an example of how this process worked. Namdar had noticed how this particular story was trending and pressed Pompeo to include it in his speech. Likewise, the State Department’s 2019 decision to ban visas for both senior regime officials and their families was driven by social media posts inside Iran expressing anger that Iranian elites were able to attend U.S. and Western universities, while many average Iranians were cut off from these schools.

This counts as small but meaningful change. The State Department had generally used its Farsi social media accounts as a broadcast platform — a way to reinforce what it was already saying. The department’s new approach treated social media as a channel to learn what Iranians thought about both their own regime and U.S. policy.

A complementary piece of this policy involves more outreach to Iranian Americans. Under President Barack Obama, much of that outreach was done through the National Iranian American Council, an advocacy group that has largely cultivated a relationship with the Democratic Party and sought to portray Iranian-Americans as supportive of diplomacy with the Iranian regime. Under Trump, the State Department went out of its way to engage Iranians who want the U.S. to help destabilize that regime.

“As we speak to Iranians who live in exile or who have made homes in the United States, we find a common thread,” said Elliott Abrams, who has replaced Hook as the U.S. special envoy for Iran. Their message, he said, is this: “Don’t forget the Iranian people.” In his talks with Iranian-Americans, Abrams said, he has heard criticism as well. They don’t want U.S. policy to focus only on the regime, and they don’t want diplomatic deals “that abandon the Iranian people and keep the regime in place forever.”

This is not to say that the U.S. government should assume the responsibility for transitioning Iran to a democracy. That was, is and should remain a task for the Iranian people. But having a small group at the State Department that follows what Iranian activists say on social media is a useful way to gauge the regime’s legitimacy. Over time, it could be a valuable way to communicate directly with the Iranians who might one day be in charge of the country.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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Are You Missing Life’s Moments Because of Social Media?

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Recently my wife and I watched the movie Before Sunrise [1995], starring Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine. While travelling on a Eurail train from Budapest, Jesse, an American, sees Celine, who’s French. It’s Jesse’s last day in Europe before returning to the US. Jesse strikes up a conversation with Celine, and they disembark in Vienna to spend the night wandering Austria’s capital city.

 

Summary: Before Sunrise is a back-and-forth conversation between a romantic [Celine] and a cynic [Jesse].

 

During the closing credits, I turned to my wife and said, “That wouldn’t have happened today. Jessie and Celine would have been staring at their respective smartphone throughout the train ride, which in 2021 would have free Wi-Fi, not noticing the passing scenery, their fellow passengers or each other, let alone start a conservation.”

 

How much of real life are we trading to participate in the digital world?

 

I have this problem; actually, it’s more of an addiction I need to keep in check constantly. I suffer from FOMO [Fear of Missing Out].

 

You’ve probably heard of FOMO. Odds are you suffer from it to a degree. FOMO is that uneasy feeling you get when you feel other people might be having a good time without you, or worst, living a better life than you. FOMO is why social media participation is as high as it is. FOMO is why you perpetually refresh your social media feeds, so you don’t feel left out—so that you can compare your life. FOMO is what makes social media the dopamine machine it is.

 

FOMO has become an issue, especially for those under 40. More and more people choose to scroll mindlessly through their social media feeds regardless of whether they’re commuting on public transit, having dinner in a restaurant, or at a sports event. Saying “yes” to the digital world and “no” to real life is now common.

 

Your soulmate could be sitting a few seats over on the bus (or Eurail train), or at the diner counter, or in the doctor’s waiting room. However, you’re checking your social media to see if Bob’s vacationing in Aruba with Scarlett or if Farid got the new job and may now be making more money than you. Likely, your potential soulmate is probably doing the same.

 

Look around. Everyone is looking down at the screen in their hand, not up at each other.

 

We all know Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, et al. [even LinkedIn] doesn’t provide a very well-rounded picture of people’s lives. Most of what people post is cherry-picked to elicit self-affirming responses, such as likes, thumbs-up and hand-clapping emojis, retweets, shares, and those coveted comments of “Congratulations!”, “Way to go!”, “You’re awesome!”, “Looking good!”

 

The Internet, especially its social media aspect, equates to “Look at me!”

 

Sometimes I wonder, if bragging and showing off were banned on social media sites, how much would posts decrease?

 

“Stop paying so much attention to how others around you are doing” was easy advice to follow pre-Internet (the late 90s). Back in the day, it would be only through the grapevine you were a part of that you found out if Bob was in Aruba with Scarlett and that be without pictures. Evidence of how others are doing, strangers included, is pervasive because undeniably, most of us care about status. In 2021 how people are doing is in the palm of our hands, so we tend to give more time to the device we’re holding at the cost of neglecting the real-life happenings within our immediate surroundings.

 

Social media has made us a restless, anxious bunch underappreciating the present moment. With lockdown restrictions lifting and more social activities taking place, people will be hunkering down on their smartphones more than before to see what others are doing. They’ll see the BBQ they weren’t invited to or people they consider to be friends having a few laughs on the local pub’s patio or camping or at the beach without them. Loneliness, questioning self-worth, depression will be the result.

 

Trading engaging with those around you to feed your FOMO angst is what we’ve come down to. In my opinion, Guildwood is the GTA’s most walkable neighbourhood. You can choose to take walks around Guildwood, getting exercise, meeting people or stay addicted to the FOMO distress social media is causing you.

 

Instead of catching up with an old friend or colleague in person over lunch, coffee, or a walk in Guild Park & Gardens, people prefer to text or message each other on social media platforms eliminating face-to-face interactions. Instead of trying to reconnect with old friends verbally, people would rather sit at home with their technology devices and learn what their friends are up to through social media platforms, thus the start of a slippery slope towards anti-social behaviour.

 

Social media’s irony is it has made us much less social. How Jesse and Celine meet [you’ll have to see the movie] and the resulting in-depth conversation they have as they gradually open up to each other, thus beginning a postmodern romance wouldn’t have happened today. They’d be too preoccupied with their smartphones feeding their FOMO addiction to notice each other.

 

Social media will always nudge you to give it attention, but that doesn’t mean you have to oblige. Take it from me; there’s more to be had in enjoying life’s moments outside of social media.

______________________­­­­­­­___________________________________________

Nick Kossovan is the Customer Service Professionals Network’s Director of Social Media (Executive Board Member). You can reach Nick at nick.kossovan@gmail.com and him on Instagram and Twitter @NKossovan.

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Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck pictured kissing as ‘Bennifer’ returns

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Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have been pictured exchanging passionate kisses, apparently confirming weeks of fevered rumors that they have rekindled a romance that dominated celebrity media almost 20 years ago.

Paparazzi photos printed in the New York Post on Monday showed the two actors kissing while enjoying a meal with members of Lopez’s family at Malibu’s posh Nobu sushi restaurant west of Los Angeles on Sunday.

Representatives for Lopez, 51, declined to comment on Monday, while Affleck’s publicists did not return a request for comment.

Lopez and “Argo” director Affleck, dubbed “Bennifer,” became the most talked about couple in the celebrity world in the early 2000s in a romance marked by his-and-her luxury cars and a large 6.1-carat pink diamond engagement ring. They abruptly called off their wedding in 2003 and split up a few months later.

The pair have been pictured together several times in Los Angels and Miami in recent weeks, after Lopez and her former baseball player fiance Alex Rodriguez called off their engagement in mid-April after four years together. Monday’s photos were the first in which Lopez and Affleck were seen kissing this time around.

Celebrity outlet E! News quoted an unidentified source last week as saying Lopez was planning to move from Miami to Los Angeles to spend more time with Affleck, 48, and was looking for schools for her 13-year-old twins Max and Emme.

Max and Emme, along with the singer’s sister Lydia, were also photographed walking into the restaurant in Malibu on Sunday.

Lopez married Latin singer Marc Anthony, her third husband, just five months after her 2004 split with Affleck. Affleck went on to marry, and later was divorced from, actress Jennifer Garner.

 

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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TikTok debuts new voice after Canadian actor sues

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TikTok

After noticing a new female voice narrating the videos on the popular video-sharing social networking service, users of TikTok were baffled as to why. It actually turns out that the Canadian actress behind the old voice filed a lawsuit against the platform for copyright violation as her voice was apparently being used without her permission.

Bev Standing, a voice actor based in Ontario, is taking China-based ByteDance to court. TikTok’s parent company has since replaced her voice with a new one, with Standing reportedly finding out over email after a tip-off from a journalist. On the matter, Standing said: “They replaced me with another voice. I am so overwhelmed by this whole thing. I’m stumbling for words because I just don’t know what to say.”

TikTok is said to be considering a settlement for Standing outside of the courts, but nobody knows whether or not this is true. According to legal experts, the fact TikTok now has a new voice on the popular social media app suggests they acknowledge Standing’s case and potentially understand that she may have suffered as a result of the company’s actions.

Thanks to the emergence of the powerful smartphone devices of today, alongside taking high-quality images for Instagram, getting lost down YouTube wormholes, and accessing popular slots like Purple Hot, people are turning to relatively new platforms like TikTok. The service has 689 million monthly active users worldwide and is one of the most downloaded apps in Apple’s iOS App Store. This latest news could harm the platforms future, although many of its younger users potentially aren’t aware that this type of scenario is unfolding.

For Bev Standing, the ordeal is a testing one. She wasn’t informed of the voice change, there is no mention of it in TikTok’s newsroom online, and the development is news to her lawyer also.

 

This all comes after her case was filed in a New York State court in early May after the voice actor noticed a computer-generated version of her voice had been seen and listened to around the world since 2020. Speculation is rife as to how TikTok managed to obtain the recordings but Standing believes the company acquired them from a project she took part in for the Chinese government in 2018.

(Image via https://twitter.com/VoiceOverXtra)

The Institute of Acoustics in China reportedly promised her that all of the material she would be recording would be used solely for translation, but they eventually fell into the hands of TikTok and have since been altered and then exposed to a global audience.

According to Pina D’Agostino, an associate professor with Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and an expert in copyright law, the fact that the hugely popular social media platform has now changed Standing’s voice could result in a positive outcome for the distraught voice actor. She said: “It’s a positive step in the way that they are mitigating their damages. And when you’re mitigating, you’re acknowledging that we did something wrong, and you’re trying to make things better.”

When assessing social media etiquette and how both companies and users should act, this type of news can only do more harm than good. Not only does it make the company look bad, but it could have an effect on revenues and, ultimately, TikTok’s reputation.

With a clear desire to move on and put this whole process behind her, Bev Standing is eager for the case to be resolved and get back to the daily work she loves and has been doing for a large part of her life. TikTok has until July 7 to respond to her claim.

 

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