Iranians in the Arab world respond online

Iranian authorities have continued their clampdown on information as the demonstrations in Iran enter their second week. MENASSAT looks at how Iranians living in Arab countries are increasingly relying on alternative sources of news from social networking sites and blogs to keep tabs of unfolding events.
Alternative media booms in Iran and abroad, as repression continues in Teheran. © NYT

BEIRUT, June 22, 2009 (MENASSAT) – “If you have a Twitter account, log in and set your location to Teheran, Iran, and your local time to GMT +3:30. Thank you,” reads a message posted on the wall of the Facebook group “Iranians/Persians in Dubai” in an effort to help Iranian twitterers avoid persecution by security forces.

Another message posted in the group calls on Iranians in Dubai to mobilize for a demonstration outside the Iranian consulate.

Meanwhile, Lebanese and Iranian students exchange views and perspectives in Facebook groups such as “Lebanon and Iran friendship” and “Iran and Lebanon.”

As the Iranian government has moved to muzzle the flow of information coming out of Iran, imposing restrictions on the media, blocking opposition websites, arresting scores of journalists and bloggers, and temporarily shutting down mobile phone networks, Iranians have turned to digital media tools such as the micro-blogging service Twitter to get their message out to friends, family, and the rest of the world.

The Iranian capital has seen unrest and street protests since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the  presidential elections on June 13.

Iranian Twitter user Persiankiwi frequently provides information on police movements and arrests in Teheran to his more than 33,000 followers.

At times, the tweeter also gives security advice to street protestors.

“Do everything possible to confuse government forces - give false information - block telephone lines,” wrote Persiankiwi in a recent tweet.

Video grips the world

But with Twitter becoming such an important tool for disseminating information from Iran, reports have surfaced in the blogosphere and on alternative media sites that the Iranian security forces are hunting dissident Twitterers, using location and timezone searches in a web-crackdown. Thus, users on Twitter around the world have been asked to set their time and location so that it appears as if they are writing, or “tweeting” from Iran, creating a logjam for the Iranian state-apparatus.

On Monday, one of the main topics of discussion on many channels on social media sites like Twitter, You Tube, and Facebook, was the killing of Iranian student “Neda” allegedly carried out by a pro-government Basiji militiaman.

“Neda” was reportedly taking part in a protest march with her father when she was shot by the Basiji paramilitary trooper - an incident filmed with a mobile phone camera, later circulated on social media sites and aired by several of the large news organizations.

The footage of Neda’s last moments, flickering her eyes before the camera lens as she lies in a pool of her own blood, has gripped the world and made her an icon for the Iranian protest movement.

A fan page for Neda, showing a picture of the student with a big smile on her face, was recently set up on Facebook.

In nearby Dubai, twitter user sshahabi, of the online broadcast platform, a forum focusing on strengthening business and economic ties between the Middle East and the rest of the world, tweets his thoughts about Neda.

“Keeping Neda alive in our hearts and minds. The regime has barried her without a proper funeral and very fast, “ he wrote.

On the 88,000 member strong fan page for Iran’s main political opposition candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi, Iranians from around the world are discussing the past week’s events and the future plans of Mousavi’s “Green Wave” movement. 

New chapter in web media

One post that calls for a general strike has more than 700 comments.

A Teheran-based young man affiliated with an independent Iranian multimedia news site told MENASSAT that the alternative media is playing a “huge role” in informing the public and fellow Iranians abroad about the current situation in the country, even though many of the social media sites have been blocked by the Iranian censors.

“The Internet and sites like YouTube, Facebook , Twitter have a huge role in what’s going on in Iran. People can get footage and news within minutes and get updated every second.  The majority of the youth have access to the Internet and they know ways to go around the censorship although the Internet is slow in Teheran. Still, people keep in touch with people abroad and send them the videos and pictures. Videos and pictures don’t lie,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Other than YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, he said that, the Iranian version of, where readers can access a digest of breaking news and articles on Iran from all types of media also serves as an important source of information., billed as an Iranian “online video library” on Iranian society and politics, is also an information tool for Iranians living abroad, he added.

In essence, he continues, the people out in the street with their cameras, mobile phones, and notepads have become real citizen reporters for the outside world. This, he says, marks a new era in the use of Internet and web tools in Iran.

“This is a new chapter in Internet and technology use in Iran. It used to be that the youth only knew how to chat and download music from the Internet. But today, they work as reporters. The youth feels responsible to follow the path of their parents, whom in 1978 changed Iran’s history and also the martyrs who gave their lives in the eight year-long war for our country.”

Only this time, he means, the movement is mobilizing in cyberspace. 

Click here for a list of Iranian blogs written in English by Iranian bloggers inside and outside Iran.