Home People LibTech: Mehdi Yahyanejad on Iran

Disclaimer: I have done my best to transcribe the comments of these speakers at the conference on Liberation Technology in Authoritarian Regimes, and I apologize for any errors.

Mehdi Yahyanejad was a post-doctoral researcher at Stanford as well as being a trained physicist and software developer. One popular project, Balatarin.com, is similar to Digg and covers politics and social news in Farsi. He begins with a background on the 2009 elections, noting that Mousavi and Karoubi were the reformist candidate, while Ahmedinijad was the conservative incumbent, all with strong revolutionary credentials.

Facebook and Twitter were unblocked in January of 2009, for unknown reasons. Possible motivations include the desire to track conversations and to present a more open facade to western journalists. Though SMS was used for campaigning, these services were shut down on election day. When Ahmedinejad was announced the winner with 63% of the vote citizens, particularly in more progresstive Tehran where Mousavi was popular, believe some fraud has occurred. The key here was again an information cascade. The Internet was not shut down. Though being suspicious of an election outcome was not unusual, the Internet allowed people to know that their fellow citizens shared their skepticism, giving strength to their own feelings and leading to further expressions of dissent.

Protests began on June 15th and the government crackdown on the 20th, the day Neda Agha Sultan was shot. Street protests ended but action did re-emerged on days when sanctioned public rallies occurred. such as the official annual anti-Israel rally. These protests were organized through the Internet, particularly to distribute news and coordinate. The Internet still provides some sense of anonymity.

Next he specifically addresses the idea of the “Twitter Revolution.” He argues that YouTube was actually the more critical technology. The mainstream media had two poles, human interest stories from more liberal journalists and nuclear stories from conservative ones. YouTube, particularly the Neda video, brought attention to human rights issues and to native opposition. It took only three hours between Neda’s murder to its posting on YouTube. Another video, which showed how the militia (Basij?) were attacking Mousavi’s headquarters showed the viciousness of the government reaction. The Iranian government has reacted by slowing Internet speed, attacking sites with DDoS attacks, and arresting webmasters.

1 reply to this post

Leave a Reply