The Iranian Blogosphere Through The Looking Glass

Even when the government was able to restrict some access to the microblogging site, users were still able to utilize Twitter through other services, such as Twitterfall, where the Iranian government had a much more difficult time controlling. Another means to bypass the government's intervention was re-routing to proxy servers. These servers employ IP addresses that are not on the government's forbidden list - which in turn allows the servers to redirect the information to other Web sites, even those on the government's restricted list.

Shut down the Internet?

Indeed, the only means that the government could have used to completely stop the flow of information during the Iranian Election protests was to ban any and all access to the Internet. This was a step the government never took. Doing so might have risked shutting down vital government and economic services as well, and they wisely chose not to cut off their nose to spite the face.

The Iranian Blogfather

According to Jahan News website, Iranian blogger, Hossein Derakhshan (aka Hoder), a prolific blogger often described as the godfather of the Iranian blogosphere, was arrested In Tehran in 2008. The Canadian-Iranian citizen had been credited with igniting a Web-based "revolution" earlier in the decade, in which Iranians began criticizing the regime by blogging, texting and using social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

He has stirred controversy in both the US and Iran,  calling for reform and  criticizing the regime. At other times however, he has praised Ahmadinejad, criticized the US, and stated that he would not hesitate to fight for Iran if the US ever attacked. Now, the 35-year-old Derakhshan has been accused of giving up names to the Iranian government of others involved in anti-government organizing. To date, it is not been ascertained if Derakhshan is being used as a pawn or coerced to testify in support of the government.

Mobilizing the Diaspora

In 2006, the Iranian diaspora or ex-pats were estimated to be between 2 to 4 million people around the world. According to the U.S.-based Migration Policy Institute, Iran's emigrant population is "extremely heterogeneous with respect to ethnicity, religion, social status, language, gender, political affiliation, education, legal status, and timing and motivation for departure (ranging from political to sociocultural to economic)." The largest concentration of Iranians outside of Iran, the report finds, "reside in the United States, followed by Canada, Germany, Sweden, and Israel.

Organizing the Activists

Social networking outside of Iran was key to the explosive reliance on these tools. With restricted access, slow Internet service, and limited knowledge of events inside the country, Iranians have turned to activists outside the country to help facilitate the transfer of information.

Read my previous blog, 'Iranian Activist Fights With Top Social Media Tool Of The Decade,' pertaining to the opposition activist Mohsen Sazegara living the States in Virginia using YouTube as his prime social media weapon of choice.

The Social Networking Rules Work

Here Comes Everybody by Clay ShirkyHere Comes Everybody by Clay ShirkyIn his seminal book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky outlines the principles for effective adoption of social-networking tools. Shirky's rules address the nature of the technology, the structure of the social interaction, and the value assigned to social-networking transactions.

    * Technologies should be well established. As Shirky points out, "new tools are not always better. New tools, in fact, start with a huge social disadvantage, which is that most people don't use them, and whenever you have a limited pool from which potential members can be drawn, you limit the social effects." The preference in social networking is to adopt proven and widely available software and systems.

    * Systems should seem simple. Shirky notes as an example that, "the basic bargain Wikipedia offers is that you can edit anyone else's writings and anyone else can edit yours." Simple rules and simple operational routines are the hallmark of widespread adoption of social-networking tools.

    * There has to be something in it for the user. "Social tools don't create new motivations so much as amplify existing ones," says Shirky. Users are drawn to social networks because they believe participation will bring them a benefit that they want.

The Iranian case appears to validate Shirky's rule set. Even Twitter, among the newest of the social-networking tools widely used during the protests is two years old. Additionally, Twitter is among the simplest of online communities to participate in. Twitter and other social-networking sites were popular in Iran because they provided something people wanted--a "space" where they could share ideas and protest against the ills of state with people inside the country and around the world.

2010 and Beyond

Where do Iranian bloggers, citizen journalists and ex-pats go from here? We are inspired by their noble cause and their bravery in the face of what appears to be insurmountable odds. The government is trying hard to keep the Iranian people and the world at large from learning the full extent of its abuses. Foreign correspondents have largely been barred from the country and native journalists risk their lives daily by just doing their jobs. Many are forced into exile leaving a country they love. One can only guess what fate awaits protesters who remain behind.

While the blogosphere continues to be robust and the social networking sites of Twitter and Evgeny MorozovEvgeny MorozovFacebook prove a viable resource for communicating dissent to global audiences, this is only one side of the coin. The blogosphere should also be examined as to how it benetis the the Iranian government as well.

In a blog titled, 'Iran's propaganda hits the Spinternet,' by Evgeny Morozov, his view through the looking glass sheds some additional light. He wisely cautions, that while "making our way through billions of Twitter and Facebook updates, we should not lose sight of one critical feature of the digital age - the wealth of information trails generated by digital activists has also provided authoritarian governments with better means to identify and squash emerging threats to their hegemony."  As with every opposing faction, whether it is a full-blown war or protests on the streets of Tehran,  while the tools can amplify the message, sometimes it's not the volume that's necessary if it displaces the voice of reason.

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Ron Callari
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