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Slipping video past the net's censors

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, January 4 2010

The 2009 post-election protests in Iran have changed the Internet. Or, at least, how people are learning to use the Internet to resist oppressive governments and other regimes. The Catch-22 of online resistance is that those places in the world where we've seen the citizenry most actively pushing back against governments online -- Iran and China, to name just two -- also happen to be the places where authorities tend to have the most control over the Internet, able to dictate that telecommunications companies filter Internet traffic or, as we've seen happen around the world, simple flip the "off" switches on the country's routers and hubs until times of turmoil pass.

That's why we're seeing a great deal of creativity going into figuring out ways to circumvent the censors, and perhaps not surprisingly, the latest round of work dedicated to online circumvention seems to be focusing on video work. A new group called Access has sprung up that is dedicated, at the start at least, to protecting and promoting web video. Online video has been proven to have enormous currency in the Iranian context. We might not be able to easily wrap our minds around the latest dictate from this or that cleric, or parse the latest official statement coming out of the Iranian government, but video of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan in the streets of Tehran is powerful stuff. It stays with you. What you take in through video can be difficult to shake.

Just one example: the gruesome video above of the seeming death of a protestor in Tehran on December 27th.

YouTube's CitizenTube blog has been aggregating videos from Iran's most recent protests, and it has a guest post up from Access' Executive Director Brett Soloman about how the organization is working to make video accessible from all over the world. Part of Access' strategy seems to be to flood the zone. The group spends time converting videos to all sorts of formats (including mobile, enormously popular in Iran) and propagating them throughout social networking sites like Facebook and the Iranian-themed Balatarin, all in an effort to make video of what's happening in Iran nearly unavoidable.