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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.

News Briefs

RSS Feed tuesday > Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and And strangely enough, seems to want its early users to ask for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.


monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.


The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.


Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.


wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.


The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.