Rahimi, Babak. "Cyberdissent: The Internet in Revolutionary Iran." Middle East Review of International Affairs 7.3 (2003): 101-115. 7
Rahimi's paper argues that, despite the government's efforts to regulate internet use, the rapid expansion of the internet and its uses in Iran has given political dissidents new ways to challenge state authority. The article opens with a historical overview of the development of the internet in Iran and the government's subsequent response. Rahimi notes that the number of Internet users in Iran is growing exponentially (at the time of the article, use was expected to soar from 1.2 million in 2003 to 15 million in 2006). Initially, the Islamic Republic welcomed the internet, hoping that it would boost the country's commercial and educational sectors and alleviate economic troubles caused by the Iran-Iraq War. While the Internet did promote economic competition (particularly for the development of private telecommunications and technology sectors free from state-control), the internet has become an important medium for interactions both within Iran and with the outside world. Internet users, particularly women, are turning to blogs as a medium for the expression that is denied them by strict society. By telling their stories, these women are defying the government's strict moral code.
It was not, however, until 2003 that the Iranian government employed any systematic method to block websites or filter internet content. Access providers were held responsible for preventing access to immoral or dissident content, but this requirement was, at the time Rahimi wrote, rarely enforced. This is largely explained through the government's lack of technological expertise, need for the economic benefits of the internet, and officials' desire to use the new medium to promote government policies and reputation. In the face of censorship and closure of print media organizations, the internet has provided a new arena of confrontation. Starting in 2000, the judiciary began to shut down specific newspapers and websites. In November 2001, the government declared that all ISPs would be required to submit to state control. Most recently, the government has attempted to filter activity, arrest web designers, and enact restrictions in the production and reception of content. Bloggers have increasingly been imprisoned.
Rahimi's article provides interesting background on the history and development of the Internet in Iran. By explaining the diversity of Iranian internet users, the article indirectly explains the wide variety of content found on Iranian servers. Similarly, Rahimi notes that regulation in Iran was the result of specific historical events. He thus demonstrates that in order to fully understand the rise of blogs and the policies used to regulate them, it is important to understand the larger context of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the principles that guide the Islamic Republic.
Tehrani, Hamid. "Iran's Revolutionary Guards Take on the Internet." Weblog post. Internet & Democracy Blog. 8 Jan. 2009. Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. 7 Apr. 2009 .
Tehrani's post addresses an announcement made at the end of 2008 by a branch of the Iranian army that it plans to launch 10,000 blogs for military forces. The ideologically-motivated group sees blogs as a threat to the Islamic Republic and are concerned that it might lead to a non-violent revolution. Tehrani claims that a chief cause of the Revolutionary Guards' action is fears over the state's lack of control over the internet; the Iranian government controls all other media. In 2008, detailed information about corruption was posted and spread on blogs. As Iranian citizens spread the word, public outcry grew, causing many high-ranked officials to resign. Tehrani notes that this government accountability is much more prevalent now that Iranian citizens themselves have the ability to publish information. He remains skeptical about the Revolutionary Guards' efforts, stating that Iranian conservative media has never been able to attract readers--despite the lack of competition from other sources.
Tehrani's post mentions an intriguing policy decision that demonstrates changing attitudes in Iranian government. This "if you can't beat them, join them" belief is a shift from a policy of attempted censorship and filtering that has been largely ineffective. The post is also one of the few sources that mentions the existence of conservative blogs. Interestingly, mullahs and conservative politicians have also been turning to blogs to express their views, and many are well-read. Tehrani's critique of the government policy, however, is that these blogs will essentially be "mass-produced". The government is likely to keep a strict eye on them in order to ensure they reflect official policies. This regulation is counterintuitive to the spontaneous, often-opinionated dialogue that makes blogs so popular in Iran, which is likely to render them ineffective as propaganda tools.
OpenNet Initiative. Internet Filtering in Iran in 2004-2005: A Country Study. 9 Apr. 2009.
This repotr by the OpenNet Initiative is a thorough analysis of the internet filtering technology used in Iran. The study begins with a detailed description of the regulation and censorship restrictions in place both in print media and online. Then, the ONI attempts to study the Iranian filtering system. Through accessing remote computers behind Iran's firewalls, the ONI tested a list of websites to see whether they would be accessible or not. They try this technique on multiple computers and do it several different times in order to get an understanding of how consistently a certain website is blocked. Through analyzing the content of HTTP headers and web site loading time, researchers separated sites into four categories: unfiltered, possibly filtered through redirection, possibly filtered with a possible network connection error, and definitively filtered. In Iran, researchers concentrated on two ISPs: the private ParsOnline and the state-owned TCI. Results showed that only one-third of websites tested were blocked. Sites with pornographic material or that provided access to circumvention tools was filtered more successfully. Over the testing period of a year, filtering increased, particularly the filtering of blogs.
This study is perhaps the only empirical study that tests the regulation mechanism in Iran. By providing details of the filtering software and giving empirical data, readers get a clearer picture of the breadth of content that the Iranian government seeks to block. The filtering in Iran appears to be at a sophisticated level, moving beyond pornographic content that violates Islamic law and focusing on more personal forms of expression, such as blogs. One interesting result, however, is that non-Iran specific sites or non-Farsi content is harder for the filtering software to block. Still, the software in place results in an "overbreadth" of sites being blocked, censoring more forms of expression than needed/
Doostdar, Alireza. "'The Vulgar Spirit of Blogging': On Language, Culture, and Power in Persian Weblogestan." American Anthropologist 106.4 (2004): 651-662. 7 Apr. 2009 <http://www.doostdar.com/articles/vsob.pdf>.
Doostdar, a blogger himself (writing in both English and Persian), opens his article by providing background on the vulgarity debate (bahs-e ebtzeaal) among Iranian bloggers. The debate concerns whether it is important to observe standard orthography and grammar, and whether the use of colloquial Persian is appropriate. Doostdar argues that the debate sparks mostly from the increasing separation of blogging from "offline" media, as well as a political clash between intellectuals and a larger group of people who use the internet to be free from any kind of authority or "intellectual pretense." He also challenges the naive assumption that the emergence of the internet will necessarily result in social, cultural, or political revolution. Doostdar points to many orthographic traits of blog writing to hint at the oral tradition of blogs. He continues on this idea to explain the "dialogic" nature of blogs; that is, blogs engage other texts (and other blogs and bloggers) in a dialogue about material. Part of this dialogue is an established custom of reciprocity that obliges the host blogger to comment on a visiting blogger's recent entries (the practice is known as did-o baazdid: "seeing and re-seeing"). He then discusses the use of "vulgarity" as a form of resistance.
While Doostdar doesn't address the larger social context of Iranian blogging, choosing instead to focus on the blogging community, many of his arguments can be extended from a linguistic debate to a larger social issue. Most importantly, the questions of linguistic authority and legitimacy reflect the dissidents view that the Islamic Republic and its moral code are illegitimate. While Doostdar speaks of resistance in terms of social practices, that resistance can be extended to a more subversive resistance against political authority as well. It is interesting that Doostdar chooses to connect blogging to oral speech traditions; in many ways, Iranian blogs are the discussions that the Iranian public is unable to engage in. Doostdar also ignores the occasional need to misspell in order to avoid censorship or filtering. Still, by examining this debate among bloggers, Doostdar further examines the diversity of Iranian bloggers and demonstrates how impassioned they are about the issues. He also shows how established they are becoming as a community.
Lovink, Geert. Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture. New York: Routledge, 2008.
Lovink's book is primarily concerned with the rise of blogs and Web 2.0. He argues that blogs in the United States are bringing about the decay of traditional media and sees them as being largely driven by concerns about social ranking. In essence, he sees bloggers as "creative nihilists" who are "good for nothing." Lovink spends a portion of his book discussing Iran, a country where blogging's growth means the activity is no longer marginal. He notes that anonymity is essential for this growth. He then discuss the notion that blogging facilitates indigenization by creating an environment which gives cyberspace the same feel as the real world. In essence, Lovink believes that because blogs are so prevalent, people simply transfer their activities online. By doing this in the name of preserving their freedom, Lovink fears that Iranians are isolating themselves from the global community. He notes that many of these bloggers simply seek to expand their social networks and gain a special authority that they could not otherwise gain in the real world. Lovink also points out that anonymous blogging in Iran may not be as safe as Iranian bloggers believe. While ISPs are not centralized as in other countries (specifically China), it is hardly difficult for the authorities to track users based on their IP addresses (recent arrests of bloggers indicates this fact). Because of this, anonymous bloggers in Iran are really deluding themselves into complacency.
I chose to include Lovink's study in this book because of its counterpoint to traditional thinking about the Iranian blogosphere. Before addressing the issue of "nihilist blogging", it is important to mention that Lovink's perspective on anonymous blogging is valid. With ISPs submitting to state control, anonymous blogging would seem to largely be a social-norm. Yet Lovink doesn't seem too well-versed in the content of Iranian blogs. Many of the sentiments expressed on Iranian blogs would be unacceptable in Iranian public spaces. The fact that discussions of love (or other topics that would be considered immoral) can only be had on the internet seems to indicate that it is more than an extension of a person's physical world.
Van Buren, Chris. "Morozov: The Internet No Democratic Cure." Weblog post. Internet & Democracy Blog. 3 Apr. 2009. Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. 7 Apr. 2009 .
In a post on The Berkman Center's Internet & Democracy Blog, Van Buren responds to Evgeny Morozov's piece in the Boston Review on cyber-utopianism. He agrees with Morozov's assessment that intellectuals tend to overestimate the Internet's power to democratize, pointing to the fact that access to the Internet has not removed human rights abusers from power. Van Buren is concerned that online dissidence has led to a wave of heavier repression and authoritarianism that opposes the democratization many intellectuals seek to promote. Yet while believing that intellectuals' idea of technological determinism is naive, he also sees a possiblity for the web’s influence on democratic reform to exist, but in a subtle and slow manner. In order to defend this point, Van Buren examines the Iranian case. The sheer number and variety of Iranian blogs mean that total censorship is impossible, and this promotes the free speech necessary for democratic change. By doing so, Van Buren argues, freer speech becomes more of a norm, and this slowly will defeat censorship. Van Buren also notes that the blogosphere gives a voice to moderates who would otherwise be excluded from the traditional media's emphasis on polarized viewpoints.
Van Buren examines the implicit effects of the existence of so many Iranian blogs. While there is a dispute as to whether or not all Iranian bloggers seek to effect political change, the fact remains that the forum to discuss virtually anything remains open and free to access. Van Buren is suggesting that a social norm will be transferred from the Internet to the real world. At the same time, however, Van Buren ignores the recent efforts of the Iranian government to curb blogging through legal consequences such as imprisonment.
Drezner, Daniel W, and Henry Farrell. "Web of Influence." Foreign Policy 145 (2004): 32-40.
Drezner and Farrell's article examines the ability of bloggers to shape media coverage and global policy. In a free society, Drezner and Farrell explain, journalists now look to weblogs to determine which topics in global affairs are salient. Because blogs have the ability to provide a real-time response to breaking news and offer unique perspectives of common people (rather than an elite class), they provide a reliable source of public opinion for journalists and policy-makers alike. This gives blogs in most countries a strong agenda-setting ability. In more restricted societies, where the news media is subjected to state control or censorship, blogs often become an alternative source of news and opinion. The authors point out that bloggers are limited by restricted access, legal punishment, filtering, and lack of technological infrastructure. In this case, bloggers in these countries (or members of the country's diaspora) try to influence foreign media or foreign NGOs in order to indirectly improve the situation within their own country. In the Iranian case, Iranian bloggers have joined together with prominent English-language bloggers in order to attract media coverage and pressure the government to release an imprisoned blogger. Yet the authors also note that most bloggers mnust rely on traditional media for sources of information, which, combined with the threat of imprisonment, hinders their ability to accurately portray their situation.
Drezner and Farrell provide an intriguing model to explain the real-world influence of blogs. What they do not address, however, is the importance of architecture in the network. While bloggers in repressed societies do indeed appeal to foreign audiences, they also utilize tools to circumvent the efforts of government to control their speech and access. Still, the existence of foreign transnational networks (of NGOs and media organizations) does influence the proliferation of blogs in Iran by ensuring dissidents that efforts will be taken to address their concerns.
Reporters Without Borders. Reporters sans frontières - Internet - Iran. 2004. 8 Apr. 2009.
This report by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres, or RSF) is part of a series of studies that examines obstacles to the flow of information over the internet. RSF's main concern with blogs is that they provide a more-objective source of news than the traditional Iranian media and that they allow for the organization of anti-government protests and demonstration. The RSF report also details the history of Internet regulation in the country, naming the bureaus responsible for controlling access and content on the internet. RSF reports cases of both reformists and conservative hard-liners using government in order to control the Internet. It then details the stories of three cyber-dissidents who have suffered harrassment at the hands of Iranian government officials.
The RSF report provides great background on internet regulation. While efforts at regulation were intensified after the report was published, RSF's concerns remain valid and many of the government policies remain the same. The report also situates the Iranian case in a larger context of internet censorship, which helps by providing opportunities for comparison and contrast. Furthermore, the report demonstrates that both factions of the Iranian government are taking steps to control the spread of information free from government control, perhaps presenting an argument to the idea that this new technology will inherently lead to democratization.
Alavi, Nasrin. We Are Iran. Brooklyn: Soft Skull, 2005.
Alavi's book is an examination of Iranian political and social history that integrates excerpts from blogs into the historical narrative. The book begins by discussing the particular role of bloggers in society. Alavi examines the rise of blogs and the subsequent government censorship. Alavi then explains the role of history in promoting Iran's blog culture. She points to the closing of reformist newspapers and state control of the media. She also mentions the demographic shift taking place in Iran that has resulted in a large population under 30 who is eager for change. Alavi's entire book points to a conflict between globalization and tradition; she sees a Western cultural onslaught brought by the technological revolution (which introduced satellite dishes and PCs to Iran) in opposition to the Islamic revolutionary values promoted by the state. Throughout the chapters of her book, in which Alavi explores the perspectives of Iranian youth, Alavi is constantly discussing events in terms of their effects on blogging culture in Iran. She then connects bloggers' reactions and comments to actions taken by the state.
By connecting the nation's history with reactions or reflections from its people, Alavi demonstrates the power of Iranian blogs to critique the dominant social culture. Furthermore, Alavi's choice to integrate excerpts shows the use of blogs as a self-expression tool. Alavi also frequently demonstrates the link between blog posts and social movements, a connection similar to that of Chinese internet users. Alavi's selection of excerpts also demonstrates the wide variety of topics approached by Iranian bloggers and the styles they use to portray their situations.
Jensen, Peder Are Nøstvold. "Blogging Iran: A Case Study of Iranian English-Language Weblogs." MA thesis. U of Oslo, 2004. 7 Apr. 2009 <http://www.duo.uio.no/sok/>.
Jensen's thesis challenges the notion that the internet exists in a "political or cultural vacuum". While he acknowledges that it is difficult to control information on the internet, he does point out a number of successful cases in which governments have succesfully controlled access to the internet in order to intimidate users and prevent them from seeking dissident viewpoints. Jensen also notes that since its introduction into authoritarian societies, the internet has yet to effect any change in authoritarian government. The bulk of Jensen's paper is a case study of Iranian English-language blogs. In his study, Jensen discovered that the censorship of these blogs has been increasing and that the majority of blogs seem to explicitly reference censorship and filtering. Additionally, he notes that the majority of bloggers inside Iran use anonymous identities. In spite of the recent crackdown on bloggers, Jensen reports that Iranians still have the most trust in the Internet.
Jensen's article provides a helpful set of excerpts and analysis that demonstrate the concerns of Iranian bloggers and their efforts to effect social and political change. These excerpts show that despite the main focus of these bloggers (whether it be art, sports, politics, or their personal lives), the concerns of censorship and political repression are ubiquitous. By providing these excerpts, Jensen thus explains the government's perceived need for filtering and censorship.