Narges Bajoghli writes: From the Green Movement in Iran in 2009 through the Arab revolts that began in 2011, social media have held center stage in coverage of popular protest in the Middle East. Though the first flush of overwrought enthusiasm is long past, there is consensus that Facebook, Twitter and other Web 2.0 applications, particularly on handheld devices, have been an effective organizing tool against the slower-moving security apparatuses of authoritarian states. The new technology has also helped social movements to tell their story to the outside world, unhindered by official news blackouts, unbothered by state censors and unfiltered by the traditional Western media.
But what happens when digital means of communication and coordination are no longer an option for activists or, at least, a very dangerous option? The state of activism in Iran, nearly three years after the largest protests since the 1979 revolution, offers a cautionary tale for partisans of social media’s emancipatory promise. The Internet, in fact, has become the site of a protracted cat-and-mouse game as the state attempts to reassert its control after the 2009 presidential election, which large segments of the population believe to have been stolen by the state for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The very qualities that make new media so attractive to people seeking change from below also make them an ideal means of surveillance and manipulation from above. [Continue reading…]