The XX Factor

Is the “Neda” Video a Snuff Movie?

Hanna, thank you for the necessary astringency of your last post about the “Neda” video and the construction of a martyr mythology in the blogosphere’s reporting on Iran. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the entire unedited Neda video on YouTube; it feels too close to a snuff movie. Assuming this graphic clip really does document a young woman’s death at the hands of paramilitary snipers-something we lack the reporting to confirm-what gives us the right to watch it and forward to and fro as proof of our solidarity with the forces of democracy and reform in Iran (something that, as you point out, Mousavi is far from representing )? I wouldn’t want my own death, or that of someone I loved, to be instrumentalized in that way. (We don’t, for example, treat the deaths of U.S. soliders abroad as YouTube-able moments.) And the fact that “Neda” is a young and pretty woman somehow adds to the ickiness of disseminating the scene of her murder (if that is indeed what the clip shows) as a propaganda tool.

There’s a quote from a Harvard professor billing himself as an “expert on the Internet” that appeared in two different NYT pieces on Iran last week: “The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful.” Power plus half-baked inanity make for a perilous combination, which is why I can’t help but be wary of the #iranelection fervor that’s been swelling my Twitter feed for the past week. The popular uprising in Iran has been thrilling to witness, and new technologies like Twitter are exciting both as tools for evading censorship on the ground and as platforms for citizen journalism abroad. But however freely flowing, information is only valuable insofar as it can be trusted. Western sympathizers convinced they’re manning the virtual barricades by turning their Twitter avatar photos green , resetting their locations to “Tehran,” and feverishly forwarding a graphic unsourced video of a young girl’s death strike me as both touchingly enthusiastic and dangerously inane.

Photograph of Iranian protesters by David McNew/Getty Images.