Mapping Change in the Iranian Blogosphere

Iran Blogoshpere 2009
Iranian Blogosphere 2009

Iran Blogoshpere 2008
Iranian Blogosphere 2008

By John Kelly and Bruce Etling

A number of recent international anecdotes indicate increased online activism by governments. A perfect example of this ’state-engagement’ in cyberspace is found in Hamid Tehrani’s recent post about the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ plan to recruit 10,000 Basij bloggers. This may help explain some changes we’ve seen in the Iranian blogosphere, and is a good opportunity to share an updated Iranian blogosphere map created by John Kelly at Morningside Analytics, Berkman’s partner on our foreign language blog studies.

Above is a current map of the Iranian blogosphere as of February 2009, as well as a map from April 2008, which we released last year as part of our paper on the Iranian blogosphere. As we noted in that paper, there are four distinct poles in this social network map: 1) Secular/Reformist, 2) Conservative/Religious, 3) Persian Poetry and Literature, and 4) Mixed Networks. We are just starting to analyze the evolution of the Iranian blogosphere in this last year, and so cannot say with certainty what the changes represent, but we have a couple educated guesses.

First, it is worth mentioning that there are more blogs plotted on the 2009 map, which partly accounts for it looking more ‘crowded’ than the earlier map. However, you’ll see that the overall structure found last year remains recognizable, but that the conservative/religious pole (bottom right corner of the map) has expanded. In the past, this pole consisted of three sub-clusters of bloggers we labeled as ‘conservative politics,’ ‘twelver,’ and ‘religious youth.’ All of these clusters have grown, and the religious youth cluster appears to have diversified. Most strikingly however, the ‘twelver’ cluster, which we are tentatively relabeling ‘CyberShia,’ has grown dramatically. It is possible that the organized Basij blog effort may account for some of this change, since these blogs are rooted in that part of the network.

But there is another intriguing possible explanation. The expanding CyberShia cluster may also reflect a growing online debate around Islamic law in Iran. Hassan Rezaei at the Max Plank Institute in Germany has been following this debate closely, and argues that the Internet may be shifting the power dynamics around Sharia debate in Iran. Hassan writes, “The more Iranian cyberspace grows, the more Sharia discourse becomes public and intersubjective and reaches out to the broader world. The emergent Iranian right-based readings of Sharia in cyberspace contain new promises and aspirations, not only for the Iranian people, but also for the entire Muslim world and even for the world community.” Babak Rahimi has also written persuasively about cyberdissent in Iran, and has argued that, “…despite measures implemented by the Iranian regime to curtail the internet use, the rapidly growing and changing internet has provided creative ways for political dissidents to challenge state authority.”

Either or both of these forces, authoritarian manipulation and internal Shia ferment, may explain the changes we see in the network. Without more analysis we cannot say if these hypotheses about evolving online debate in Iran are correct. Check back with us for updates as we continue looking into this, and let us know what you think might account for these changes in the religious portion of the Iranian blogosphere.

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13 Responses to “Mapping Change in the Iranian Blogosphere”

  1. anonymous Says:

    from what i can see on the map, both the “reformist” and “conservative” clusters have grown, and are closer to each other than in 2008, which if i remember correctly reflects shared interests. the first thing that comes to my mind is that the increased activity may be due to the upcoming elections in june. election season is always a time of intense blogging activity. with khatami deciding to run for office, the election is bound to be dramatic and high-stakes, and these would prompt more people to blog for the various sides, and to shift more attention onto electoral politics.

  2. Valentine’s Day roundup: more Iranian netroots, Saudi Arabia and satellite TV, and net piracy… « Radical Instrument Says:

    […] a comment » 1.  John Kelly and Bruce Etling have updated their map of the Iranian blogosphere, noting a dramatic change in what they’re now calling the “CyberShia” cluster. […]

  3. dariush Says:


    I think finnally your Gov. should take people side not Islam rule and thier Gov.Ahmadinejad or else )please carefully read our Costutaion, in the mean time we are trying to find a way to see the real news as well as any site or Prog. that can help to pass through Gov. and ISP’s Filters.

  4. dariush Says:

    2nd Comment:

    Try to give us a date and an Airplane in our rounded countries we will come to talk , Espeasialy our women are read to talk with your Obama nad others how are willing to talk to this Gov. in Iran ( leader Khamenehi) is God Hear , others are toy only.


  5. Bruce Says:


    It is certainly possible, even likely, that the upcoming elections will increase the size of the more politically oriented clusters in the Iranian blogosphere. It will be interesting to see which specific bloggers grow in popularity/importance during the election as well.

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  9. CathyH Says:

    I was greatly intrigued by this map when I first saw it last year. Now that I see the updated map, I am again intrigued by what it might indicate about the Iranian blogosphere and about human rights. Do you think the greatly intensified persecutions in Iran in recent months of members of the Baha’i Faith and trial of Baha’i prisoners this week have any bearing on this map? See

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