geert lovink on Sun, 21 Jun 2009 16:54:53 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> "true complexity of the use of digital activism in Iran"

(hi all, it's easy to deconstruct messages from US american techno- 
evangelists like clay shirky and jeffrey jarvis who have been  
promoting their 'api revolution' and 'twitter revolution' in western  
mainstream media outliets this week. it's harder to find out which  
role new media are actually playing on the ground in iran. this piece  
by hamid tehrani is a first attempt. the other text that I liked is  
this one: 
. it's an interview with gaurav mishra called "iran 'twitter  
revolution' -- myth or reality?" /geert)

Digital Activism in Iran: Beyond the Headlines
Written by Hamid Tehrani on June 20, 2009 – 9:27 pm -

Background:  Protests against Iran’s presidential election results  
continue despite the warning of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday.   
However, Iranian reformist candidates Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi  
Karoub and their supporters have few communications options. They have  
no access to national TV, radio, or newspapers, which are under state  
control.   Text messaging is being blocked and web sites are  
filtered.  How are they able to organize a huge protest movement?

While the mainstream media has focused on the role of Twitter and  
decentralized organizing, the real picture of digital activism in Iran  
is more complex.  Protests are organized centrally by the campaigns of  
reformist candidates and then that information is disseminated both  
online and off.  The role of citizens with regard to social media is  
as citizen journalists, using YouTube and Twitter to report on what is  
happening, rather than to organize the protests.  Since this activity  
is intended for an international audience (and is in English) it is no  
wonder that this use of social media is more visible to a Western  
audience than the online tactics actually being used to organize the  

Tools: web sites, Facebook, Twitter, mouth-to-ear networks

How these tools are being used:  With regard to the post-election  
protests, decisions are made centrally by Mousavi and Karoubi and  
their campaigns. When they take their decisions they communicate them  
in different ways. First, they publish them on their websites, for  
example Kalamhe and Ghalam news.  Web 1.0 (as well as totally offline  
communication methods) are just as important as Web 2.0 (social  
media), though the latter is receiving for more attention.

Second, the reformist leaders use social networking systems to  
communicate these message. On Saturday Mir Hussein Mousavi’s Facebook  
published the news that demonstration will be held today. Mousavi has  
more than 65,000 supporters in his Facebook group and every message  
can reach this army of people directly.  Supporters were also asked to  
pass the message to others, implying that the leaders are deliberately  
making use of their supporters’ online and offline personal  
networks.   One of the main ways to organize the demonstrations  is  
person-to-person communication or talking with friends and neighbors…  
the mouth-to-ear method.  It still works and no government can shut it  
down.  (Maybe Iranian leaders imagine a divine power can prevent this  
form of communication as it did in the election.)

Third, as has already been noted (and overemphasized) in the  
mainstream media,  Twitter is being used.  However, the dynamic is  
different than has been previously reported.  Gholamhossein Karbaschi,  
a top adviser to Karoubi, communicates about his activity on his  
Twitter account (@gkarbaschi, in Farsi).  This is one of the only  
instances where Twitter is actually being used to organize protest  
inside Iran and again, this is centralized organization coming from  
the campaign of a reformist candidate.  An indication of the  
centralized nature of Twitter for organizing in Iran: @gkarbaschi has  
over 4,700 followers but is not following the feeds of any other  
users.  He is using social media to broadcast to a domestic audience,  
not to interact.

As has also been noted, people in Iran are using Twitter as an  
important broadcast (rather than organizing) tool to report events,  
slogans, and minute by minute protest movement. In this way, Twitter  
has turned a local struggle into a national and  international one.  A  
scene of a girl murdered by security forces is one dramatic example of  
news reported on Twitter.  As many reporters and interested observers  
around the world have learned, it also allows an international  
audience to follow the event in real time.

Finally, Iranian citizens upload films from around country on YouTube  
to show demonstrations, protest movements and reformists’ messages.   
International mainstream media are using these citizen videos in their  
Iran coverage.  This combination of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, central  
organization and decentralized dissemination shows the flexibility of  
these tools and the true complexity of the use of digital activism in  

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