Iran: bloggers have the edge in cyberspace
Young Iranians command of the Internet has made this a very different kind of movement
19 Jun 09

ahmadinejad_bloggerAlthough, in some ways, the street protests that followed the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president resemble the protests in 1978-79 that toppled the Shah, there is one very significant difference: the role of the Internet. Since many of the Iranian protestors are young and well-educated, they are finding it very easy to use the Internet to good advantage.

Notwithstanding the sad deaths, beatings and attacks on student dormitories that have occurred since the controversial election on 12 June, the battle between the protestors and the state on the Internet is more like an episode of Tom and Jerry than a life-and-death struggle. And Jerry, the mouse, seems to be very much smarter than Tom, the cat. When the Revolutionary Guard issued a statement warning Iranian bloggers not to post material that would be “harmful to security”, Iranian bloggers picked out the spelling mistakes in the statement and invited the Guards to try to “hack” offending sites, with the underlying assumption that the Revolutionary Guard wouldn’t be able to hack its way out of a paper bag.

The protestors are also using the Internet to warn each other about the dangers on the street. This post shows “mug shots” of two dozen “government plainclothes men who have beaten the people” and warns protestors to steer clear of them. This post (now removed) noted: “These motorcyles require special licences, if you don’t know who the killers are pay attention to their motorbikes.”

This blogger explains how to identify the different security forces by their uniforms. One blogger posted a photo (now deleted) showing security personnel smashing a car windshield, an act later blamed on “hooligans” (what state media calls the protestors). Another blogger warns protestors to switch off their phones if they are in an area that is being raided by security forces, because they can be identified as having been in the area if their mobile phones are switched on.

The Internet has also become a way of boosting morale. When six of Iran’s national football team members where seen to be wearing green wristbands (in support for Mir Hossein Mousavi) during a World Cup qualifier in South Korea, it caused great joy among bloggers, who expressed pride in the “brave lads” and said that they must give them a great welcome at Tehran airport when they returned home. They bloggers also noted that the green wristbands were off in the second half of the match and noted that “supreme leader decrees” were enforced as far away as South Korea.

Of course, there is also a great deal of rumour-mongering on the Internet, as well as warnings that some bits of information may be “plants” or “traps” by the authorities. But all in all, the protestors definitely have the edge in cyberspace.

The author is an Iranian, who wishes to remain anonymous