Tuesday, June 23, 2009


On the evening of June 21, 2009, I, Dr. Amy L. Beam, was watching the unfolding events of Iran simultaneously at my computer and on Al Jazeera and CNN TV. I am in Europe. The TV newscasters kept repeating that this had become a Twitter Revolution in Iran. I've never before used Twitter to search for news, but this prompted me to. I logged onto twitter.com and searched for "Iran demonstrations". I saw the top search term was #iranelections so I searched for this and kept updating my search every minute. Twitters were pouring.

This is how I saw the Twitter posting that had a link to the youtube video of Neda being shot in Iran. It had just been uploaded. About 120 people had viewed it within several minutes. I was curious to know the dead woman's name so I emailed the person who uploaded the video. He thought the name was Neda Soltani. He explained that this video had been sent to him, outside of Iran, by the doctor who had been at Neda's side as she bled to death. The doctor's friend shot the video with his cell phone. The doctor also sent an explanatory note.

So I went immediately to Facebook and searched for Neda Soltani. A number of Neda profiles came up along with photos. Some had last names similar to Soltani. I decided I would try to eliminate the Neda's who were still alive, so I wrote to Neda Soltani, the beautiful Iranian woman wearing a patterned headscarf whose photo has become famous:

"Dear Neda,
I am trying to identify the Neda Soltani shot to death in Tehran June 20. I can only do this by process of elimination. Please reply if you get this. Thank you.

She replied about an hour later:

"My Dearest Amy,

First, I should like to thank you for your compassion, and care.
It feels so good to know people around the world care for us!

I am not the one you are looking for, but I want you to know I am grateful.

Pray for the safety of my people.

Neda Soltani"

She and I then became "friends" on Facebook so we could post messages to one another. I also became friends with Hamed R. who is the man who uploaded the video file of the Neda who was shot to death.

Someone (not Neda Soltani as I originally stated by mistake) decided to do some research. That person found a website written in Farsi about the Neda who was killed and she translated it from Farsi to English. She then posted this on my Facebook wall. It has since been removed and I have not yet been able to retrace who posted it (and maybe never will be able to). And HERE'S WHERE THE MISTAKE WITH THE PHOTO HAPPENED:

The posting was shown under the thumbnail profile photo and the name of the living Neda Soltani, so visitors to my Facebook wall mistakenly assumed the photo of the living Neda Soltani was the woman who was Neda Agha-Soltan, the woman who was killed.
So the photo of Neda wearing the patterned headscarf was copied and reposted EVERYWHERE within minutes and hours.

By the time I woke up June 22, the wrong photo of the living Neda Soltani was being displayed on TV, blogs, youtube videos, placards and banners around the world. Neda Soltani emailed me via Facebook begging for help to correct the mistake. I have spent hours posting corrections and asking people to remove her photo. Most people do; some people seem hell-bent on ignoring the truth and they insist on spreading this photo as the symbol of the Neda who was killed.

Some people changed their own Facebook profile photo to that of the woman in the headscarf and changed their name to Neda Soltani. One young man explained he did it three days after Neda's death to honor her memory. I am sure people meant no disrespect; they only wanted to honor her. When informed of the mistaken photo they removed it. However, as fast as one false "Neda Soltani" Facebook page is removed or corrected, another one appears.

The real, living Neda Soltani has removed her photo from her Facebook. However, now when you search for Neda Soltani on Facebook a whole list of profiles comes up. Thus, the REAL Neda Soltani, who is very much alive and very distressed, can no longer use her Facebook which was pretty much her main form of communication. If all these people who changed their Facebook names to Neda Soltani only knew what a problem they have caused for her, I feel sure they would remove the name. I know they only mean to honor the Neda who was killed.

Now the dilemma arises of knowing who is the real living Neda Soltani and do I really speak for her. I have screen shots of my Facebook private message postings between us but wish to keep them private. I communicate with her by private email now.

On June 23, Neda Soltani again emailed me the following. I have thought hard as to whether to share her private email, but in order to make people understand the gravity of this mistaken identity with her photo and her request to the world to correct the mistake, here is her email to me. I have removed some of the content to protect her privacy:

Dear Amy,
I'm having a hard time accessing facebook.
and to tell you the truth, I'm very scared!!!!
All around the world they are talking about my photo, which has turned into The symbol of liberty, rebellion, etc.
i'm in danger!
i don't know what to do!
thanks for ur caring compassion
i wish i could see u, and embrace u...
take care

Post Script added June 28, 2009
Numerous journalists and other people unknown to me have asked to be listed as friends on my Facebook in order to see Neda's original postings on my wall. Of course, this is understandble because we are all trying to verify the accuracy of things flying around the web. However, as of today, I am blocking access to my Facebook for Neda's security and, frankly, may never use this form of social networking again now that I see the terrible damage it can do.


AVoiceForNeda said...

Amy, can you contact me please?

I am so upset for this woman. I feel I've played a large part in getting this photo distributed. The photo I put up has had nearly 40,000 views.

I got this photo from what appeared a reliable source.

I want to be a voice for this Neda too and help rectify this mistake.

I would like to speak with Neda if possible. I can give an email or my Facebook page.

AVoiceForNeda said...

I would like to add that this photo was already on several websites.

I got it from a blog written by a journalist. It appeared she had verified the source.

She had obviously been given wrong information too.

Tell this Neda not to worry, just like everyone thought it was her they will know it was not her just as quickly.

People are spreading the word as I type.

Dr. Amy L. Beam said...

I'd like to respond to AVoiceForNeda but have not way to do so. My blogspot profile carries my contact info.

kathy riordan said...

Thanks for your diligence on this, Amy. After I first saw your notice on this yesterday morning on Hamad's Facebook, I put the word out to as many media outlets as I could to correct the photo. It seems by late last night many, but not all, had corrected it. You were good to follow through on this and make sure that a living person wasn't being mistaken for one that had been tragically killed.

Hamed has my admiration for his role in posting the video in the first place, something that was very courageous for him to do. That moment probably more than any other defined this past week of turmoil and struggle in a country that has pulled a black curtain over media and freedom of expression.

Again, thanks.

Jon said...

We are confronted with a strong demand for a photo. The solution is to get a photo of the dead Neda Agha-Soltan. When that is available it can displace the incorrect one.

Sherry said...

I'm confused as to what photo is the Real image of the woman that was killed - and what photo is of the woman that is still alive???

Carlos Echevarria said...

"Dr. Amy" apparently likes to delete comments that don't fit her narrative.

Notice how she shifts the focus of the real matter at hand in Tehran.

She goes on my website in an overbearing and rude manner and presents herself as something she is not....

Why don't you contact Fox News and the LA Times they are both using the photo you say is false.

Again, lost in this effort of yours is the fact you are obviating what that vile regime in Tehran, which you apparently support, did!!!!

Dr. Amy L. Beam said...

Well, I've decided to leave Carlos' comment here just so viewers can get a taste of the maliciousness of some people and just why the living Neda grows more terrified by the hour. His words speak volumes for his own ignorance. Since when did "truth" depend on statistics of how many people tell a lie? And oh, could it be true that are mainstream media always tell the truth or verify their facts?

Anonymous said...

Thats very sad that the wrong name/picture is being used. I can imagine her fear, especially with a murderous government running amuck.
Are all of the photos incorrect or just that main picture being used? I saw several pictures of Neda, some with blond dyed hair...are those her? Im very confused (please comment back on that)

I do think you should contact CNN and possibly leave a tip that the wrong photo is being used and your reasons why.

Angela said...

I sent some messages to the creators of groups using the incorrect photo, along with a link to this blog post, and also sent messages to the couple of people who had changed their names to Neda Soltani and were using the photo still. Hope I helped!

lwilrey said...

Thank you, Dr. Amy, for digging deeper and finding out the truth. My thoughts are with the living Neda and her safety and the dead Neda's family.

kathy riordan said...

For those who are asking, since Amy uncovered this error yesterday I have worked hard to inform the media and the public about which photos are correct and which aren't, and ended up doing a blog post about it to keep all updates in one place. You can find all correct verifiable photos of the Neda who died in the video at that site:

Updates on Neda, Symbol of a Revolution http://tinyurl.com/nkk6xl

The Los Angeles Times has been notified they are using an incorrect photo, and have acknowledged.

AVoiceForNeda said...

Good work!

Dr. Amy L. Beam said...

To clarify once again, the photo of Neda Soltani who is STILL ALIVE is a beautiful Iranian woman wearing a dark headscarf with a flower design on it.

Anonymous said...

FYI, the Wikipedia article seems to have a different picture (no floral headscarf), but no mention of the identity switch photo problem... since it is one of the top hits when you google her name, you might ask them to mention it.

Jon said...

Correct photo of the dead Neda Agha-Soltan is at http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-neda-agha-soltan-pictures,0,5241125.photogallery

Jon said...

Still truncated:


Anonymous said...

There is a user on youtube called brandokelly who posted many videos featuring a still photo of the wrong Neda. I have sent this person many messages only to be told "yes, the photo is correct". This user is deleting my comments, so my only conclusion is that brandokelly is an idiot or conveniently using this situation as a propaganda machine. This video has gotten well over 100,000 views and needs to be pulled. Please spread the word. I feel sorry for the family of the slain woman, I also feel very sorry for the woman who is alive and has had her identity falsely associated with a tragic event.

Erin said...

Thank you for telling me this. I will contact my local tv station and let them know since they, too have been using this photo!

Joelle and Nikki said...

you deleted my comment saying that i think the entire news media in the WORLD wouldnt be inaccurate, but go ahead and spin this to make yourself look good. also dont believe that Nedas fiance would have done an interview and not mentioned the incorrect picture but again, you delete posts that dont agree with you. so much for freedom of speach and true debate. and now not allowing anon. posts! dont worry im not afraid...

kathy riordan said...

For Joelle and Nikki--The fiance DID mention that previous photos being used in the media were wrong. The family and friends did then supply new photos.

Joelle and Nikki said...

from Neda's Fiance's interview:
"In reference to the falsified photographs depicting Neda wearing a green headband that were distributed on the Internet, apparently by Mousavi supporters, Makan said that she was not politically affiliated with either side of the current struggle."

this has nothing to do with the pic of Neda in the floral head wrap...

Lisa said...

Joelle & Nikki

How can you look at the photos released by the fiance and family and the incorrect photo and NOT tell that they are 2 different women?? Put them together and look. Yes, they resemble each other, but if you look at two pictures together you can tell they are not the same woman.

Also, the entire news media in the world doesn't have that picture up... and even news agencies have made mistakes. A situation like the brutal death of a woman spreads like wildfire. Perhaps if media & communication wasn't blocked coming out of Iran, media would be able to CONFIRM stories. Every story I've read so far has the caveat of "unconfirmed" with it.

Dr. Amy L. Beam said...

This is an old blog, but for those who are researching or following the story, the living Neda Soltani fled Iran shortly after her photo was used as the wrong photo of Neda Agha-Soltan who was killed. Soltani was granted asylum in Germany in 2010. You can get a glimpse of Neda here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXngt83BbIE and here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqEdqrSBi3U&feature=related

Anonymous said...

I really liked your article. Keep up the good work.I love bondage video

Michael Hammerschlag said...

I am committing another journalistic sin in not vetting you properly, but since your Blog seems to accurately describe events 3 years ago, I am trusting that it is true and accurate. Is this LA Times pic an accurate photo of the real Agha-Soltan? If so, no wonder the confusion- they could be twins! You must be in wrong-Neda's book- what page?

I have written extensively on media issues for CJR + MediaChannel and may do some story on this.

You are right: Facebook is evil and all posted personal info dangerous, under wrong circumstances - since I'm a pretty outspoken critic of the Bushmen and wingnuts, I've suffered reprisals.

Following is my post from new Onthemedia NPR show: http://www.onthemedia.org/2012/nov/30/my-stolen-face/
"Wow. Superb story, esp. if you actually broke this. (NOT) What an indictment of the mindless soulless juggernaut the media can be. Disgraceful, BUT considering the nature of the despicable murderous mullahs and their vested interest in corrupting and denying this story... somewhat understandable. Hope this woman can overcome the "Jacobs Ladder" rumors of her death. Here's a suggestion: a joint foundation by the major guilty press outlets that perpetuated this terrible mistake to fork over $200-500K to poor Neda2. Before she sues them for $5 million for almost destroying her life."