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:
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.
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:
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...
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.