Social networking sites help delineate unrest over Iran elections

On June 23rd, at around two in the morning in Iranian time, an anonymous Tehran blogger wrote this onto a Twitter page:

“It’s been two days now and my brother hasn’t come home from the protest and no one has seen him. Please, God watch over us I am so scared right now :(“.

Even in the early morning it was not at all uncommon to see such a “tweet” on the Twitter page called “Iran Election.” The blog space has become a beehive of commotion as Iranian protesters flock to the internet with eyewitness news, reformist preaching, and government exposés gathered by an army of Iranian individuals enraged by the government’s alleged electoral fraud during the recent presidential elections.

Within just a few hours, the anonymous posting was quickly lost among the flood of other “tweets” and videos posted by hundreds of cellphones, PDA’s, laptops and internet cafés from across the Iranian nation.

As the crisis continues to unfold in Iran, the world struggles to keep pace with the national turmoil. However, when foreign journalists and media correspondents were expelled by the state, the Internet became an unprecedented source of first-hand news.

The social networking interfaces like Twitter have become battlegrounds for a new kind of information guerilla warfare as Iranian reformists have labored to pass on news and information to both Iranians and the outside world.

“Tweets” and Facebook groups have been used to schedule massive public protests throughout the country. One blogger even posted updates onto Google Earth to track the locations of government tanks.

Bloggers are responsible for much of the international sympathy for the Iranian reformists. For example one blogger, reported that injured protesters are refused entry into hospitals and are instead beaten and arrested by security forces.

The death of Neda Soltan garnered significant attention when bystanders used cellphones to take footage as Iranian protesters rushed to give CPR and first-aid to the dying Neda Soltan just moments after she had been gunned down by Iranian security forces.

Within hours, the video was streaming on Youtube to thousands of computers across the globe. The footage not only received the condemnation of world leaders but hundreds of candle-light vigils were held across the globe in a show of solidarity with Iranian protesters. Similar incidents have continued to be reported by citizen reporters and to surface in amateur video footage across the web.

Recently, the Iranian government has moved to crackdown on the reformist movement. Not only have security forces suppressed the once-massive public protests but now struggles to contain the increasing flow of online information.

Among the casualties was the “Iran Election” Twitter page which was suddenly deleted without explanation on June 25th, despite having over twenty-thousand subscribers.

“Cookies” and other internet programs have been used to compile government “blacklists” of wanted bloggers. Further more, sites like Twitter have been blocked from Iranian internet servers, forcing bloggers to create proxy websites that disguise Twitter access from the online filters used to censor websites.

The crackdowns have led bloggers to increasingly use Twitter to organize their movements.

On the Twitter page “Iran Rigged Election”, bloggers pass on precautionary information though tweets like “the government is warning that anybody who doesn’t come to work tomorrow will be immediately fired.”

Iranian bloggers have retaliated against the crackdowns by launching a wave of assualts on government-owned cyber property. Bloggers use a tactic known as a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) that involves paying an online service to artificially create an overwhelming flow of internet traffic that can be used to overload a website’s capacity.

Using DDoS attacks, the protesters have been offlining government websites, sometimes for days at a time. A Facebook group has even been created to coordinate combined DDoS attacks.

As government crackdowns continue, online blogging has become an increasingly dangerous activity. Online protestors risk both arrest and persecution by security forces. However, should the online resistance falter, then the reformist movement would undoubtably fail as well.