Web Ecology Research Finds Over 2 Million Tweets About Election in Iran

The Berkman-affiliated Web Ecology project, lead by the Internet & Democracy’s own Tim Hwang, has done some amazing and very timely research on Twitter in Iran. This adds some more quantitative data to our Op-Ed in the Post last week. The key findings:

* From 7 June 2009 until the time of publication (26 June 2009), we have recorded 2,024,166 tweets about the election in Iran.
* Approximately 480,000 users have contributed to this conversation alone.
* 59.3% of users tweet just once, and these users contribute 14.1% of the total number.
* The top 10% of users in our study account for 65.5% of total tweets.
* 1 in 4 tweets about Iran is a retweet of another user’s content.

You can download the full PDF report here.

Statement by a group of Iranian bloggers about the Presidential elections and the subsequent events

From Kamangir, who tell us this has been posted on a number of major Iranian blogs:

Statement by a group of Iranian bloggers about the Presidential elections and the subsequent events

1) We, a group of Iranian bloggers, strongly condemn the violent and repressive confrontation of Iranian government against Iranian people’s legitimate and peaceful demonstrations and ask government officials to comply with Article 27 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution which emphasizes “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”

2) We consider the violations in the presidential elections, and their sad consequences a big blow to the democratic principles of the Islamic Republic regime, and observing the mounting evidence of fraud presented by the candidates and others, we believe that election fraud is obvious and we ask for a new election.

3) Actions such as deporting foreign reporters, arresting local journalists, censorship of the news and misrepresenting the facts, cutting off the SMS network and filtering of the internet cannot silence the voices of Iranian people as no darkness and suffocation can go on forever. We invite the Iranian government to honest and friendly interaction with its people and we hope to witness the narrowing of the huge gap between people and the government.

A part of the large community of Iranian bloggers

July 26, 2009

Posted in Elections, Iran. Comments Off on Statement by a group of Iranian bloggers about the Presidential elections and the subsequent events

Cracking Down on Digital Communication and Political Organizing in Iran


Cross-posted on the ONI Blog

The Internet and mobile phones have taken on a major role in Iranian politics over the last several months. As protests over the contested election results continue in Iran, the government has dramatically increased its control over digital technologies. Many important Web sites have been blocked over the past couple of days, including the Web sites of the opposition parties in Iran, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. While political organizers have learned to leverage the organizing power of Web 2.0 tools, government censors in Iran are quick to shut them down when they are most effective. None of this is surprising; it reflects similar events seen in many places around the world.

Digital tools have been shown to be effective political organizing tools, from the Obama presidential campaign in the US to Ukraine, Colombia and Moldova. As powerful as new technologies may be as political tools, information and communication technologies have also been proven to be exceedingly fragile; in countries where the government has sufficient latitude to interfere with the use of these tools, they are easily disrupted and if necessary, can be shut down entirely.

The role of information and communication technologies in Iranian politics has matured rapidly over the past year. Political opposition groups in particular have adopted new online and mobile phone-based organizing tactics, using Facebook, Twitter, Web sites, email, cell phones and SMS and the full suite of Web 2.0 tools as mechanisms for political organizing. This is has all taken place in a highly restrictive media environment in which the Internet and other forms of digital communication are intensely regulated. Facebook has been blocked and unblocked several times in the past year. The rationale and legal justifications for censoring Internet communications are broad. Anything construed as anti-Islamic or damaging to the Iranian state can be blocked by what amounts to executive fiat, although there are many voices within the institutions charged with blocking web sites in Iran.

Earlier reports that the government shut down the Internet entirely during the June 12 elections appear to be exaggerated. Jim Cowie at Renesys looked at the evidence from international routing data and indeed found evidence of some strange events in Iran’s traffic to the outside.

However, the Internet is still up in Iran, though reports from inside Iran suggest that it is much slower than normal and a broader range of websites are being blocked. The fact that Iran has invested so much in blocking Internet content might mean that they have greater confidence about keeping tight controls over content available in Iran without shutting down the Internet entirely, as Burma had done in the face of popular protests there.

After a large surge in SMS traffic in the run-up to the election, multiple sources inside Iran reported that the country’s SMS networks went down just nine hours before the polls opened. This is unsurprising, as SMS has been used in many places as a powerful tool for organizing protests. Reporters Without Borders reports that the SMS take-down was part of attempt to prevent opposition supporters from collecting election results.

By Saturday, all mobile phone services had been shut off in Tehran. Plans by an organization led by former president Rafsanjani to carry out election monitoring using cell phones might have factored into this decision. Cell phone service was restored on June 14, but SMS continues to be blocked.

Western media sources have covered the news as it unfolds, although some US media outlets have been criticized for not focusing more attention on the events in Iran. The government has not thrown western journalists out of the country, though it has made reporting difficult. The BBC has traced the jamming of one of its satellites, which has interrupted access to radio and television for audiences in Iran, the Middle East and Europe, to a location inside Iran.

Despite the tightening restrictions on communications tools, citizen journalists inside Iran have been hard at work. Video clips are widely available on the net, as are photos of Iranian voters and post-election protests. Although YouTube and DailyMotion are both blocked, we were able to upload a small video to Vimeo. The generally slow Internet speeds will hinder the upload of large files.

ONI has confirmed the expansion of blocking over the past several days, making access to ongoing reporting of events as well as political organizing far more difficult for Iranians. In the past several days, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have been blocked. The English version of BBC is now blocked; the Persian version has been blocked for months. Websites of the major opposition candidates are all blocked, including Mousavi’s website  mirhussein.com) and Karoubi’s website  teribon.com). The blog host, blogfa.com, has been down for several days now, preventing many Iranian bloggers from updating their blogs.

We tested the thirty web sites that receive disproportionate attention from the reformist segments of the Iran blogosphere and about half of these are not blocked, including norooznews.ir, webneveshteha.comemruz.bizemruz.infoyaarinews.com, mowj.ir, maryamshab.blogfa.commirhussein.commasoudbehnoud.com, drmoeen.ir and noandish.com. Among those not blocked include ghalamnews.ir, aftabnews.ir and khatami.ir. (Thanks to John Kelly for the list of sites that we tested. This is derived from the blogosphere mapping work of John Kelly and Bruce Etling).

In response, some pro-democracy activists are targeting government Web sites with DDOS attacks in an attempt to strike back at the current regime. While they have had some success – leader.ir, ahmadinejad.ir, and iribnews.ir were reported to be down – experts worry that the attacks may be used by the Iranian government to justify their own filtering or, worse, may cripple the Iranian network as a whole. (Note: Leader.ir was back up when we tested. Ahmadinejad.ir and iribnews.ir were still down.)

Many years of Internet filtering have prompted the development of circumvention tools by and for Iranians. Many Internet users in Iran have become adept at getting past the Internet censors there. An unintended consequence is that there are many sophisticated users and tools that are prepared to circumvent government attempts to limit access to online sites. This increase in filtering associated with the elections can be expected to increase the demand for access to and knowledge about circumvention technology.

These measures to further limit access to information around the contested election results are not going to help the current the Iranian government if it seeks to build legitimacy.

Mapping Iran’s Blogosphere on Election Eve

By John Kelly and Bruce Etling


Based on our monitoring of the Iranian blogosphere on election eve, it looks like Mousavi has broader support in the online blog community than Ahmadinejad. (For a broader understanding of the different attentive clusters in Iran check out our new online interactive Iran blogosphere map). The below maps show who is linking to websites associated with the candidates. It’s pretty interesting to see the contrast between Ahmadinejad  emtedadmehr.com), whose links are very concentrated in the Conservative Politics cluster, and Mousavi  mirhussein.com), whose links come from all over the map, not just the reformist politics group.



We are particularly struck by how many links come from the poetry cluster, which rarely links to political sites. Also, Moussavi has even more links from the CyberShi’a than Ahmadinejad.

This online interest doesn’t necessarily translate to the offline world, but it may indicate a broader level of excitement about Mousavi in the electorate, particularly among those outside his expected base of supporters, which could ultimately lead to higher voter turn out for Mousavi.

As Hamid Tehrani wrote earlier this week, YouTube is being used a lot by Iranians in this election. Here is one of the YouTube videos most linked to by reformists.

And here is the video most linked to by conservatives, which Hamid pointed to earlier in the week as an example of conservatives trying to discredit Khatami, who has supported Mousavi since he dropped out of the race himself.

Iran experts caution against trying to predict election winners Iran (because we’ve been surprised before), and we’d caution against predicting a Mousavi win just on this analysis, but it is certainly interesting to see the larger level of online support for Mousavi on the eve of the election. We’ll have to leave it to the voters at this point.

Some additional data and analysis on Iran’s election eve blogosphere is posted on Morningside Analytics Shifting the Debate blog. You can also catch an interview and find all of Hamid Tehrani’s posts on the Internet and the Iranian election on the PBS Web site.

Check back here next week for the big release of our Arabic blogosphere paper and accompanying event at USIP.

Al Jazeera on Mousavi’s New Media Campaign

Following up on Hamid’s post yesterday, Al Jazeera English has a story on how the Mousavi campaign is using the Internet, including Facebook and SMS, to its advantage in the Iranian presidential election. Money quote from the Mousavi campaign:

For us the Internet is like the air force in a military campaign. It bombards the enemy’s positions and lays the groundwork for the infantry, our volunteers, so that they can win battles on the ground.

Minus the military analogy, this is not dissimilar from what we heard from the Obama campaign last year.

Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan

YouTube Shows Different Faces of Iranian Election

By I&D guest blogger Hamid Tehrani, Iran editor of Global Voices and co-founder of the March 18 Movement

The Iranian Presidential election will take place this Friday, and YouTube has been used both by Iranian citizens and politicians as a dynamic instrument during the campaign. Here, I would like to share a few examples to illustrate how YouTube has become a vibrant, interactive medium of expression in the hands of Iranians.

1. Fact Checking: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied, during a televised debate with one of his reformist candidates that he ever claimed a “halo” surrounded him during a U.N. address in 2005. A video clip on YouTube shows that Ahmadinejad did in fact argue that a “light enveloped him during his address to the U.N. General Assembly and that the crowd stared without blinking during the entire speech.”

2. Demands beyond candidates’ campaign platforms: Rakhshan Bani Etemad,a leading female director, made a film where various women activists talk about their own demands.

3. Creativity: One video appearing on YouTube compares former Prime Minister, Mir Hussein Mousavi to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the tune of the old Broadway tune, ‘Anything You Can Do’. The text at the end of the film concludes that Mousavi is more rational than Ahmadinejad, whose policies he argues have damaged Iran’s economy

4. Discrediting the Opposition: There is another YouTube film that targets former Reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, who is campaigning for Mousavi.
A couple of hundred Azeri students held a protest against Khatami for making this joke, and asked Mousavi, who is Azeri himself, to condemn Khatami. Meanwhile, Khatami has claimed the film is a fake montage.

5. Campaign Events: Mehdi Karroubi, former Speaker of the Parliament, and his supporters forcefully broke through the gates of Amir Kabir University when he was banned by university authorities from delivering his speech.

6. Campaign films: Candidates promote their own campaign films on YouTube. Ahmadinejad’s supporters published dozens of films to promote his campaign.

7. Get Out the Vote: Iranians in 25 cities around the world came together to encourage people to vote.

8. Citizens in motion: Candidates’ supporters are dancing and celebrating each night after each presidential debate.

Visualization Methods Good For Tracking Silly Videos and Middle East Politics


Really fun news today that Internet and Democracy’s very own John Kelly recently appeared in the Washington Post, talking about his work in mapping the blogosphere and the research happening at the Berkman Center. The article talks about the story of Brandon Hardesty, who achieved internet fame through his short, goofy Youtube videos that have attracted a vast following online — and the larger vibrant cultural and community ecosystem of which it is a part. As they describe:

Every time Brandon logged on to YouTube, which he did three or four times daily, viewership for his video had skyrocketed: thousands, then ten thousands, then millions. Brandon’s notoriety was spreading geometrically — like the spread of a cold after a single child sneezes in a classroom infecting 10 children, who each go on to infect 10 others with the virus, who all fan out across their communities to create a spiraling infection. Brandon’s video spread until, before long, more than 4.7 million people had watched Brandon all alone in his parents’ basement being silly.

Interestingly, the method that John describes is the same method that we’ve used here at the Internet and Democracy project to build visuals about the shape of discourse networks in the Iranian blogosphere. You can read more about it here.

Facebook and Iranian Election Redux

Hamid Tehrani and CNN report that Facebook is up again in Iran. Berkman’s new Herdict Reporter tells us that over the last few days Facebook was indeed inaccessible to some users in Iran, but, reflecting the distributed filtering model that Iran seems to employ, it was still accessible by some users depending on their ISP. These days I always go straight to Herdict to see what actual users in country are saying about filtering in real time instead of relying solely on press reports, and I’m deeply appreciative of the users in Iran that give us reports of what is blocked. For more on filtering in Iran check out Hamid’s excellent overview at Global Voices. As we’ve cataloged on this blog over the last couple months, it seems that filtering of Internet content by political threats like former president Khatami has been part of an overt strategy by the government.

A number of blogs and traditional media outlets, including those in Iran, reported that Facebook was blocked by Ahmadinejad in an attempt to thwart his more net savvy opponent Mousavi’s online campaign–although Ahmadinejad now denies it. Hamid has been doing a wonderful series on the use of social media by the Presidential candidates including reformists like Mousavi as well as Ahmadinejad and the least effective online campaigner, former Revolution Guard leader Mohsen Rezai. Unfortunately, the campaign has become far less interesting since former President Khatami dropped out in favor of Mousavi, but many speculate he was pressured to drop out since he was a larger threat to Ahmadinejad than Mousavi.

In the end, the Facebook debacle is another black eye on the election process in Iran, which has elements of a democratic election but falls far short of minimal ‘free and fair’ standards due to, first and foremost, the ability of small body of clerics, the Guardian Council, to approve or reject candidates, to say nothing of the limits on free speech and political organization in Iran. Let’s hope that the apparent easing of tensions between the US and Iran leads to an opening in the political process in the country. A smart first move might be for the Obama administration to ease restrictions on US social media providers who have users in Iran.

Roxana Saberi’s Sentence Reduced; Journalist to be Freed Today

According to the BBC, Roxana Saberi’s sentence has been reduced to to a two year suspended sentence, which will allow her to be released and to leave the country. Her appeals trial was much more open than her initial one. It is likely, though, that politics had a great deal more to do with the court’s decision than legal arguments. There were formal requests from the US government, a request from Ahmadinijad himself, to say nothing of a sustained international media and blogging campaigns calling for her freedom. Saberi was noticeably thinner due to a hunger strike she ended only last week for health reasons. This is all, of course, fantastic news, but we should not forget that bloggers and others remain behind bars in Iran for what in most of the rest of the world is simple political expression or normal civic activity.

Posted in blogging, Free Speech, Iran. Comments Off on Roxana Saberi’s Sentence Reduced; Journalist to be Freed Today

Saberi Ends Hunger Strike for Health Reasons

According to her father, Roxana Saberi, the jailed Iranian-American journalist who was sentenced to 8 years for espionage, has ended her hunger strike for health reasons. As we wrote here earlier, Saberi began her hunger strike on April 21 after being sentenced in a brief, secret trial. Saberi had worked for a number of foreign news organizations including NPR, which has done a commendable job of keeping a high profile around her case and appealing for her release.

Saberi’s case follows a string of similar arrests of bloggers, increased filtering, creation of a Basiji blogger corps, attacks by Islamic hackers on popular Web sites, and the death of blogger Omid Misayafi in prison. The increased pressure on bloggers and others was likely due to the start of the Presidential campaign; elections will take place in June. The Obama administration has called for a review of Saberi’s case, as has President Ahmadinijad, although the Iranian president has no official influence over the judiciary, which in controlled by even more conservative elements in Iran. Experts have speculated that Saberi’s arrest and swift conviction may have taken place to give the Iranians a chip in diplomatic maneuvering with the US, which has indicated a willingness for renewed engagement and a step back from years of hostility between the two countries.

Posted in blogging, Free Speech, Iran. Comments Off on Saberi Ends Hunger Strike for Health Reasons