Thursday. 17/3/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Getting the message

Messaging app Telegram has a spotty record. Protesters in Belarus, Hong Kong and Iran have used the platform to co-ordinate their efforts in pro-democracy demonstrations and it has been a bastion of free speech in countries where the media is restricted. It was also the medium by which Capitol rioters were able to connect and spread misinformation unchecked.

Both these uses are at play during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many Ukrainians use this Whatsapp-Twitter hybrid to get live updates on the war and many Russians use it to access information, especially now that most independent outlets, foreign media and social-media platforms have been curtailed. Russian propaganda is also rampant on Telegram: its Russian-born founder Pavel Durov (pictured) recognised this when he announced that his app was “increasingly becoming a source of unverified information”.

Is a lack of trustworthiness the price to pay when access to information is so difficult and so crucial in Ukraine and Russia? And, whether you think of it as a media lifeline or a necessary evil, what does Telegram’s success tell us of our willingness to compromise on accuracy? Durov has clashed with the Kremlin in the past. The first time was when his former social networking site V Kontakte refused to censor anti-government protesters; the second when he refused to hand over Ukrainians’ data following the 2014 invasion of Crimea. Durov has since fled the country.

Today, he and a small group of colleagues continue to refuse to be cowed by the Kremlin, though messages on Telegram are not encrypted unless users decide to opt for “secret chat mode”. Placing so much responsibility in the hands of a single social-media company is a risky thing to do. For now, many are grateful that Telegram exists but in the long run, unregulated social media platforms can’t and shouldn’t be a replacement for news that we can genuinely trust.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Iran & UK

Price of freedom

After six years in a Tehran jail, British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured) returned home yesterday to her husband and daughter. Much has happened since her imprisonment on false allegations of spying for Britain – the Brexit vote, the entire Trump presidency – but one constant has been Iran’s steadfast refusal until now to countenance her release. Reports yesterday that the UK government had repaid its £400m (€470m) debt for cancelling a delivery of 1,500 tanks following the 1979 Islamic Revolution were soon followed by those that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s British passport had been returned. “There was a somewhat cat-and-mouse game over the years in which she was a cruel pawn,” Vincent McAviney, a British political analyst, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release aside, London’s repayment of the debt seems to be part of a wider effort to mend ties with Tehran and tap into Iranian oil just as the world looks to wean itself off Russian energy. Whatever led to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, today is a time of celebration and any questions about what could have been done differently and what has been learned can follow later.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Ireland & USA

Best-laid plans

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was due to visit the White House today as part of a St Patrick’s Day tradition that dates back to 1952, when a cut-glass bowl bearing shamrocks was presented to Dwight D Eisenhower. But Martin tested positive for coronavirus ahead of the meetings; he had been at a gala on Wednesday evening in Washington that Joe Biden also attended but the two were reportedly not in close contact.

The change of plans is a good reminder of how, two years into the pandemic, life – and big diplomatic events – can still get waylaid by coronavirus. The meetings look set to go ahead virtually, as they did last year (pictured), and talks over the conflict in Ukraine are expected to be on the agenda, though Ireland’s longstanding neutrality in international relations limit its capacity to act. With a little luck (and good Zoom etiquette) Martin will still be able to strengthen Irish-American ties as he looks to keep Biden on side ahead of further discussions of the country’s post-Brexit relations with the UK.

Image: Dan Medhurst

Fashion / France

Worn again

Paris-based pre-owned fashion company Vestiaire Collective has acquired Tradesy, a Los Angeles-based reselling firm, in the latest example of luxury fashion’s growing interest in the booming second-hand business. The deal, the terms of which are under wraps, mean that the company’s combined reach extends to 23 million customers and offers access to over five million items. Vestiaire’s sales in the US had already been growing 75 per cent year-on-year but the acquisition will give it the operational setup that it needs to continue to scale up. “Today’s transaction is a key milestone for the luxury resale industry,” CEO Maximilian Bittner (pictured, second from left) said in a statement. “It allows us to continue to drive change by making second-hand fashion a first choice.” The shift to circular business models has been front-of-mind as concern grows about the fashion industry’s carbon footprint. Luxury brands including Mulberry, Alexander McQueen and Axel Arigato have also launched services to tap into this second-hand economy.

Transport / USA

Full speed ahead

The US state of Georgia has received a major boost to its ambitions for a high-speed rail line connecting the cities of Atlanta (pictured) and Savannah. A new federal spending bill has earmarked $8m (€7.26m) for an environmental impact study of the project. Inter-city passenger traffic between the two ended over 50 years ago when the newly formed Amtrak hit the brakes on the existing connection. Today, the benefits of a rail link are more apparent thanks to high-speed possibilities: a drive between Atlanta and Savannah takes four hours, while the proposed train journey would take 75 minutes. But new rail projects are never just about travelling time and this link is also hoped to boost tourism and foster deeper connections. And if everything goes as hoped, it would play a part in ambitious plans to improve rail connections across the US, eventually connecting to the wider Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor as well as its counterpart Northeast Corridor to Washington, DC. In a country that is still without high-speed rail, that proposition is easy to get on board with.

M24 / Monocle on Design

The design of play

We explore creativity in play, from the playgrounds of Isamu Noguchi to a company that puts considered design at the heart of its early-years learning spaces. Plus: we meet Amsterdam-based toy designer Luca Boscardin.

Monocle Films / Helsinki

Sisu: The art of Finnish fortitude

Finland is a swimmer’s paradise and residents take to the water year-round. In colder months the practice often involves carving a hole into ice – a demonstration of sisu, the unique Finnish concept of fortitude in the face of adversity. Monocle joins journalist Katja Pantzar on an icy dip, to explore the mindset that dates back more than 500 years. Discover more stories and ideas from the region with The Monocle Book of the Nordics, available now from The Monocle Shop.

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