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[Interview] Hamid Tehrani on Social Media and Iran
Tehrani says Twitter isn't all that for social movements in Iran
Weiai Xu (iwumuyi)     Print Article 
Published 2009-06-26 14:20 (KST)   
This is the first in a series of articles on the current unrest in Iran. The author plans to interview both opposition party supporters and supporters of Ahmadinejad in future articles.  <Editor's Note>
Hamid Tehrani is an Europe-based journalist, blogger and researcher. He covers Iran's post-election turmoil for Global Voices. I interviewed him over the Internet for his view on how social media shapes the so-called "Twitter Revolution" in Iran.

Both parties are battling in social media, but Ahmadinejad seems to be losing the game. There could be a few explanations, either because Ahmadinejad is indeed very unpopular and his supporters are outnumbered by Mousavi's, or because Ahmadinejad's people are less Internet savvy and less capable of speaking to the West. What do you make of that?

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Tehrani: I think the Internet has been the only (or almost the only) communication tool that civil society has had for years. Ahmadinejad has national TV and Radio and several newspapers at his service. The opposition has only the Internet. It does not mean that governmental sites are not active but compare to the opposition's [they] are not significant.

There are less than 10,000 Twitter users in Iran and just a fraction of them are actually active during and after the election. [But] the whole world is relaying their messages creating an illusion that Twitter is extremely popular in Iran and that everyone uses it. Do you think social media kind of blew thing up: to dramatize the event, to make a exaggerated statement, and to created more biased news?

I think media exaggerates the impact of Twitter. Twitter is used to inform people what is going on in a demonstration such as slogans, security forces brutality...but they do not play a significant role to organize a movement. FaceBook plays a very significant role too. Mousavi's supporters' FaceBook group has around 90,000 supporters, any message there can go around very fast. You Tube also helped Iranians to immortalize their struggle, victims and resistance.

Is coverage on Iran by CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera fair?

They are in a very difficult position. Almost all foreign journalists are kicked out of Iran or their activities are restricted. They rely on news that they can find on citizen media, through contact with eye witnesses and so on. Saying this, I should say their coverage is acceptable.

Do you think the movement in Iran risks the future of social media in Iran? Because officials would probably say 'wait a moment, this stuff is gonna ruin us, let's shut it down'

Short answer is if the ruling regime repress the protest movement even further, then free 'breathing' may become a problem in Iran. Iran has become the most important prison for journalists and bloggers. Iranian regime knew about Internet's impact for years and that is why it invested in controlling means.

I just read in Wall Street Journal that Nokia and Siemnes helped the regime to beef up its web control system and web spying network. May be it is time to shame these companies.

TUYA MAP (http://tuyamap.blogspot.com )
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Weiai Xu

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