Published on junio 16th, 2009 | by admin0
Social Networks Spread Iranian Defiance Online
As the embattled government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be trying to limit Internet access and communications in Iran, new kinds of social media are challenging those traditional levers of state media control and allowing Iranians to find novel ways around the restrictions.
Iranians are blogging, posting to Facebook and, most visibly, coordinating their protests on Twitter, the messaging service. Their activity has increased, not decreased, since the presidential election on Friday and ensuing attempts by the government to restrict or censor their online communications.
On Twitter, reports and links to photos from a peaceful mass march through Tehran on Monday, along with accounts of street fighting and casualties around the country, have become the most popular topic on the service worldwide, according to Twitter’s published statistics.
A couple of Twitter feeds have become virtual media offices for the supporters of the leading opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi. One feed, mousavi1388 (1388 is the year in the Persian calendar), is filled with news of protests and exhortations to keep up the fight, in Persian and in English. It has more than 7,000 followers.
Mr. Moussavi’s fan group on Facebook has swelled to over 50,000 members, a significant increase since election day.
Labeling such seemingly spontaneous antigovernment demonstrations a “Twitter Revolution” has already become something of a cliché. That title had been given to the protests in Moldova in April.
But Twitter is aware of the power of its service. Acknowledging its role on the global stage, the San Francisco-based company said Monday that it was delaying a planned shutdown for maintenance for a day, citing “the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran.”
Twitter users are posting messages, known as tweets, with the term #IranElection, which allows users to search for all tweets on the subject. On Monday evening, Twitter was registering about 30 new posts a minute with that tag.
One read, “We have no national press coverage in Iran, everyone should help spread Moussavi’s message. One Person = One Broadcaster. #IranElection.”
The Twitter feed StopAhmadi calls itself the “Dedicated Twitter account for Moussavi supporters” and has more than 6,000 followers. It links to a page on the photo-hosting site Flickr that includes dozens of pictures from the rally on Monday in Tehran.
The feed Persiankiwi, which has more than 15,000 followers, sends users to a page in Persian that is hosted by Google and, in its only English text, says, “Due to widespread filters in Iran, please view this site to receive the latest news, letters and communications from Mir Hussein Moussavi.”
Some Twitter users were also going on the offensive. On Monday morning, an antigovernment activist using the Twitter account “DDOSIran” asked supporters to visit a Web site to participate in an online attack to try to crash government Web sites by overwhelming them with traffic.
By Monday afternoon, many of those sites were not accessible, though it was not clear if the attack was responsible — and the Twitter account behind the attack had been removed. A Twitter spokeswoman said the company had no connection to the deletion of the account.
The crackdown on communications began on election day, when text-messaging services were shut down in what opposition supporters said was an attempt to block one of their most important organizing tools. Over the weekend, cellphone transmissions and access to Facebook and some other Web sites were also blocked.
Iranians continued to report on Monday that they could not send text messages.
But it appears they are finding ways around Big Brother.
Many Twitter users have been sharing ways to evade government snooping, such as programming their Web browsers to contact a proxy — or an Internet server that relays their connection through another country.
Austin Heap, a 25-year-old information technology consultant in San Francisco, is running his own private proxies to help Iranians, and is advertising them on Twitter. He said on Monday that his servers were providing the Internet connections for about 750 Iranians at any one moment.
“I think that cyber activism can be a way to empower people living under less than democratic governments around the world,” he said.
Global Internet Freedom Consortium, an Internet proxy service with ties to the banned Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong, offers downloadable software to help evade censorship. It said its traffic from Iran had tripled in the last week.
Shiyu Zhou, founder of the organization, has no idea how links to the software spread within Iran. “In China we have sent mass e-mails, but nothing like in Iran,” he said. “The Iranian people actually found out by themselves and have passed this on by word of mouth.”
Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School who is an expert on the Internet, said that Twitter was particularly resilient to censorship because it had so many ways for its posts to originate — from a phone, a Web browser or specialized applications — and so many outlets for those posts to appear.
As each new home for this material becomes a new target for censorship, he said, a repressive system faces a game of whack-a-mole in blocking Internet address after Internet address carrying the subversive material.
“It is easy for Twitter feeds to be echoed everywhere else in the world,” Mr. Zittrain said. “The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what make it so powerful.”