We have been seeing a lot recently how social media is contributing to politics, for instance with Barack Obama making good use of Facebook and YouTube. Twitter too has been making an impact, especially in fluid and fast moving events such as elections. For instance in Moldova in April young voters opposed to the government used it to organise demonstrations and rallies to protest the result.
We are now seeing that on a much larger scale in Iran, and it will be fascinating to see to what extent social media helps to swell opposition to the controversial election results at the weekend.
We know that Facebook has played an important role in the challengers’ campaigns, if only by the fact that the hardline interior ministry briefly blocked it in the weeks before the vote. The Moussavi campaign used it to organise supporters, plan gathering and garner support, and was vastly more successful than the incumbent President Ahmadinejad in that respect. At the weekend Moussavi’s Facebook page was used to organise street protests and keep followers abreast of developments – it was the first to reveal that he had been effectively put under house arrest.
Texting services have been blocked, but Twitter is providing a stream of updates. Video clips of street protests are appearing on YouTube and pictures on Flckr, while scores of blogs are providing the detail. By contrast, CNN and other ‘old media’ outlets seemed to have been left far behind, taking a day or two to get to grips with the story.
It’s reasonably easy for the authorities to block mobile services, which apparently are none too reliable in Iran at the best of times. But it’s a harder proposition to block the Internet. Censors are hard at work filtering Facebook and Twitter, but there are ways round this, and there may come a time when they will just shut the Internet down altogether. As long as it can be used to co-ordinate protests they may not have a choice. At least then we will know how serious opposition to the regime is getting.