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Iran Roundup: Inside an Internet-Charged Resistance

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, June 18 2009


Yesterday we did a roundup of what's happening at the intersection of technology and politics in and around Iran, which is an admittedly one perspective on a complex picture. Today, we'll do another. One thing that seems to be becoming somewhat clear in this swirl of events is that, as far as new media goes, what is taking place in Iran is bigger than Twitter -- or Facebook, or Flickr, or YouTube, or blogs, or email, or any other one tool. To indulge in the "[Insert technology] + Revolution" construct, there's fair evidence that the last week in Iranian is perhaps best understood as an "Internet Revolution." There's a fluidity developed over decades of practice in how many of us engage online. We jump from site to service to app to tool. From the piecemeal reports we have, it might be fair to say that what's taking place with regards to Iran isn't entirely different. a look at what's happened in and around Iran of late:

A Facebook page centered on opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi is being used to share photos from the last week. A section called "Governmental Violence" has nearly two dozen photos of what appear to be acts of aggression by the police, including the one above of what appears to be a dorm room with a smashed computer monitor, and far more gruesome photos of Iranians bloodied, injured, or in the process of being beaten. (Worth noting as a purely process point is that, as these photos get passed around from "amateur" to "professional" and back again, copyright gets muddied -- an interesting wrinkle for established media as they navigate this brave new world.)

More broadly, video and photos continue to tell this story in powerful ways. The New York Times Brian Stelter and Brad Stone report on how videos of protests and their aftermath are being shared, including on YouTube, including this footage of protesters headed to Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Square. As foreign journalists are leaving the country as their visas expire, the relaying of what's happening in Iran will be necessity fall to Iranians. Stelter and Stone capture a great quote from CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who left Iran for London on Tuesday: “The process of getting the word out is totally democratized.”

The BBC News is distributing third-party video of what appears to be "plain-clothes pro-government militia attacking a university dormitory in Iran." The Beeb notes that it can't confirm the authenticity of the footage, but offers its take on the validity based on other reports of what's been happening in the country.

The New York Times has what is, despite the subject, a lovely photo slide show of Wednesday's protests, showing many Iranians flashing what is known in the U.S. as the peace sign and wearing green ribbons -- the color that has come to represent a rejection of the contested election results and an opposition to the Iranian government.

The New York Times Nick Kristof, responding to the apparent Iranian government attempts to shut down Internet access and pathways to various Internet services, issues a call to "Tear Down This Cyberwall." And in that vein of combating Iranian government attempts to cut off Internet access, the San Francisco Chronicle's Matthew Stannard profiles Austin Heap, a California programmer managing proxy servers for Iranians to use to route around Internet restrictions. (Notably, though, doesn't actually link to Heap's work.) Somewhat relatedly, profiles Ryan Kelly, the London developer whose Page Reboot software was given a new use in denial-of-service attacks against websites affiliated with the Iranian government websites. (Again, the article contains no link to the web tool that is the subject of the piece.) Worth noting is the mentions in both pieces of pushback on and critique of their efforts from what seems to be inside Iran.

CNET's Declan McCullagh reports that use of Tor, free software that creates complex ways of connecting to the Internet in an attempt to create anonymity, has doubled in Iran in the last several days.

We've all heard reports over the last several days about how Iranians are finding Internet access shut off or otherwise restricted. TechCrunch's MG Seigler reports that FriendFeed, a service for aggregating updates and content from a variety of social-media sources that happens to be rather popular in Iran, is being blocked in that country.

On to the meta-story on new media's role in Iran, the hosts a chat with Foreign Policy blogger and Open Society Institute fellow Evgeny Morozov focused on how to understand the impact digital tools are and aren't having.

When it comes to Twitter, BusinessWeek's Joel Schectman makes an attempt to separate tweeting about Iran and using the service to organize and propel the flow of events within Iran. (Though, to amplify a point that Schectman alludes to, it's arguably clear that in real life, there's no real bright line between the two, as chatter about a political movement can do much to keep said movement going.) VentureBeat's Eric Eldon digs up what numbers are available and comes to the conclusion that despite the enormous attention being paid to Twitter, there's some evidence that "Iranians are mostly using Facebook."

Also on the Twitter front, Mashable's Ben Parr runs the numbers on the popularity of the #iranelection hashtag that tweeters coalesced around with amazing speed and unanimity. In one record-setting hour yesterday, finds Parr, tweets marked with the #iranelection hashtag numbered more than 221,000.

The Twitter Search results for in and around Tehran are swamped now by non-Iranian-related content. Many tweeters have changed their location to "Tehran" to show solidarity with Iranians and in an attempt to provide some measure of online cover to those active in the protests there. For better or worse, those actions do appear to have erased the usefulness of Twitter location-based search in this context.

And in a show of solidarity with protesters and resisters, some on Twitter are using a new service based at to add a green overlay to their Twitter icons. Its existence is somewhat owed to the openness of the Twitter service, as the quickly cobbled-together app makes us of the freely-available Twitter API.