March 12 2010
The Internet as a Battleground
The Washington Post ran an article Wednesday about the Iranian regime's response to the opposition movement's online activities. Truly, the internet is a critical battlefront for the opposition to the current Iranian regime. The article explains that after the controversial June presidential election in Iran, the opposition took to the Web to engage, organize, and get their message out. This very real and serious political drama is being played out on the most expansive and effective media platform in the world.
The internet is the newest frontline for political debate and organization, both here at home and abroad. It provides a space for those with similar convictions and causes to meet, discuss, organize, and promote their ideas. This medium is essential to the ‘tech-savvy' opposition movement in Iran-which utilizes social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and blog platforms. In many countries, it is a relatively safe place to organize politically--but not in Iran.
Just as physical demonstrations in the streets have been met by harsh crackdowns by Iranian security forces (whose orders come from the regime), such is the case with the online demonstrations. Anti-government activists who use the internet as a medium for their message are being shut down, even detained. Bloggers and Facebook users who write the truth about the regime and who organize for the opposition are facing regime-backed hackers and ‘cyber-intelligence units.' A law is also on the books, which threatens to jail bloggers for the vague crime of "[defaming] sanctities."
This is unsurprising behavior. We have come to expect Iran to impede upon civil society and free speech. Since we enjoy such uninhibited internet access here in the States, it is hard to comprehend the extent to which the Iranian regime controls the internet access of its people. They have the power to shut off the internet entirely (e.g., during a protest), filter blogs, and regularly block millions of domestic and foreign websites. News sites such as CNN and BBC are inaccessible. (How dare they report on the popular unrest in Iran!) The supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei defends the regime's restrictive actions as necessary. He claims they are in response to the U.S. and other Western countries using the internet in an aim to defeat the Islamic Republic.
The Post's article describes a recent change in U.S. trade policy - pushed by the State Department - which will now allow American companies to export social media technology to Iran. Companies like Google and Microsoft can now export "free mass-market software," to Iran. Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin said that the "free flow of information" is a basic human right, and that Iranians will be able to benefit from this software. However, if and when the software will become readily available to the people is yet to be seen.