Libmonster ID: UK-1377
Author(s) of the publication: N. A. FILIN

N. A. FILIN

Candidate of Historical Sciences

Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Keywords: Iran, presidential elections, protests, Green Movement, Twitter

The presidential election in Iran on June 12, 2009 led to the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After the announcement of the , the situation in the country became extremely tense. According large part of voters, Ahmadinejad became as a result of electoral fraud. Protesting supporters of the defeated opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi were very active . However, this was not the "Twitter revolution" as : their protests mainly on the streets. Most Iranians not have access to the Internet, and opposition rallies - online and on the streets- not synchronized.

According to official data, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won with 62.63% (24.5 million votes), Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who took 2nd place, won with 33.75% (13.2 million).1. However, a large part of those who participated in the election refused to believe that Ahmadinejad - at that time the president and candidate of the ruling circles-actually received a majority of votes.

After the polls closed, both leading candidates, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, claimed victory with 5860% of the total number of votes cast in their favor. Moreover, Mousavi immediately claimed that the election results could have been rigged.2 As a result, most of his supporters did not take the election results seriously.

Popular demonstrations (mainly youth) began on June 13, 2009 throughout the country, but mainly covered such cities as Tehran, Tabriz, Qom, Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Ahvaz, Gorgan, Rasht, Babol, Zahedan Arak, etc. Supporters of the defeated reformist candidates participated in the actions. Their main demand is to review the voting results.

ON THE STREETS AND IN SOCIAL NETWORKS

The overwhelming majority of the protesters were convinced that the results were rigged. Most often, the oppositionists met with the question on the poster: "Where is my voice?" The protesters were supported by three losing candidates-they said that the protests should continue. In mid-July, Mir-Hossein Mousavi distributed materials accusing President Ahmadinejad of violating the Presidential Election Law by bribing voters.3

Soon, mass protests turned into bloody clashes with special police forces. Burned cars and buses, smashed shop windows were not enough: an attack was made on the election headquarters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a mosque was desecrated. Pro-government forces used firearms, and demonstrators were shot from the roofs of buildings. This is how Neda Soltani was shot dead on June 20 on Kargar Avenue in Tehran, and an amateur video of the tragic event quickly spread on the Internet. Subsequently, Neda Soltani became a symbol of the protest movement.

The social composition of the opposition was very heterogeneous. In addition to students, who made up the majority, representatives of the intelligentsia, business and even some of the clergy participated in the disobedience actions, and there were many women.4 The demonstrators often shouted: "Death to the dictatorship!", " We don't want Ahmadinejad!", and the crowd chanted: "Khamenei's death!" 5

After the beginning of mass protests in 2009, it became noticeable that virtual social networks played a significant role in their organization: Facebook, Twitter, Tor, etc. At the same time, some researchers believe, not without reason, that the networks both coordinated and confused the organization of street protests.6

It is important, however, that this form of self-organization on a large scale has manifested itself in Iran for the first time-


The study "Russian Policy in the Middle East: Opportunities and limits of cooperation with the countries of the region" was supported by the Russian Science Foundation (project N 14-18-03615).

page 9

you. The Iranian authorities were not prepared for such a development of events, at first they were even confused, and this did not allow them to apply harsh measures already at the first stage of mass protests.

Social networks also played an important "international" communication role-they clarified the opposition's demands for the world community. But their most important role was to help supporters of the opposition Green Movement* communicate with each other and with the outside world. In addition, they provided external contact: thanks to them, the outside world was able to communicate with opposition-minded Iranians and their support groups. There was a kind of "division of labor": news was instantly transmitted on Twitter and Facebook, and blogs, Wikipedia, and local journalists helped distribute and filter this information.

In general, it is quite difficult for foreigners to imagine what is happening in Iran. It would have been impossible to understand what was happening on the streets of Tehran then, during the electoral crisis, if the necessary information had not been continuously posted via YouTube and social networks.

Twitter provided optimal information transmission capabilities for Iranian conditions: relatively easy, fast, but powerful and highly anonymous, which allowed opposition supporters not to be afraid of state reprisals. From the very beginning of the Green Movement's activities, attempts were made to coordinate opposition speeches via Twitter, as well as to attract new supporters by sending notifications.

The following numbers can serve as an indicator of network activity:: In the first 18 days of the protests, 479,780 Twitter users sent at least one message related to the issue of elections in Iran. Of these, only 10% of users were active - they wrote at least 6 messages, 1% sent more than 58 messages.7 The largest number of messages (more than 15 thousand per hour) was observed on June 20, when violent actions against demonstrators began.

Unfortunately, this does not take into account how many messages were distributed inside Iran, and how many came from abroad. There are thousands of Iranian emigrants outside the country, both then and now. Many of them changed their Twitter location to Tehran or the +3:30 time zone, trying to create protection for those who sent messages from Iran. This did not help, because when uploading personal information about the user, the user's true location was displayed. But changing the dates also made it harder for people who were looking for protesters to join them.

ONLINE COMMUNITY GROUPS

In the first weeks of the protests, the #IranElection community was most widely represented (and played a huge role). His role could have been even greater: it could become a point of intersection of different groups, but at the same time it contained such a large array of information that it exceeded the physical capabilities of a person when reading messages. This hashtag* * had so much data that a user would have to view a minimum of 1,000 tweets every 8 hours to be up to date.

In total, 1,166,765 messages were sent via #IranElection during the first 16 days of the protests, which accounted for 58% of the total amount of information sent. 9 However, by September 2009, the number of messages sent by this group had decreased to 1,000 per day10, showing a trend towards further reduction.

For several months after the election results were announced, apart from the #IranElection group, there were two separate communities that were almost completely isolated from each other (see figure).

To the left of the drawing is a fairly large #HelpIranElection sphere, while to the right are the other four groups: # GR88, #FreeIran, #Neda, and #Sohrab. There were still about a hundred mass communities dedicated to the Iranian protests. Some of them are shown in the figure.


* The opposition speeches of supporters of the losing candidates in the 2009 Iranian presidential election, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, as well as the structure of the active opposition established by that time, were called the "Green Movement" (author's note).

** A hashtag is a phrase or word preceded by the #symbol. Twitter users can combine their messages into one group by using this sign. author's note).

page 10

Topography of the social network on Twitter, mid-June-November 2009 (five main communities that discussed the results of the presidential elections in Iran and the protests).

Источник: Fisher A. Bullets with Butterfly Wings: Tweets, Protest Networks, and the Iranian Election // Media, Power, and Politics in the Digital Age: The 2009 Presidential Election Uprising in Iran. Lanham, 2010. P. 110.

The #HelpIranElection group was formed immediately after the announcement of the 2009 election results. It included a large number of people who spoke out in support of the opposition, but did not actively participate in real events. In other words, it was rather the base of the protest movement. There were practically no calls for mass protests in this group, their coordination was not carried out, and video files were not exchanged. Many users, instead of exchanging messages, simply put green on their avatars*, thus demonstrating their views. If on June 18, the number of messages from this group reached 3,500, then in the following weeks it significantly decreased - to a couple of tweets** per day at the end of July 2009.

The #Neda community was created after the murder of Neda Soltani on June 20, 2009. In a similar way, the #Sohrab group was formed, named after Sohrab Arabi. He disappeared a few days after the mass protests began, and only seven weeks later his body was returned to his family. These tags were often used as symbols of solidarity and resistance.

The #GR88 group was very active. Its name is an abbreviation of "Green Revolution 1388" (Green Revolution 1388)***. This community, like the other three (shown on the right), was often used as a place of coordination for Green Movement activists. For example, it discussed the use of cars to block streets as a way to protect protesters from the police, or the use of shortened Internet addresses to share information and video content. 11 The #FreeIran group also had similar goals.

The people who used these communities could generally be identified as insiders - a fairly wide circle of protesters who could be located both inside and outside of Iran, but had strong connections within the country, as well as contacts with the Iranian diaspora, analysts and commentators.

The main thing that united the reports of these insider groups at the initial stage was the desire to make the Iranian protest as public as possible: post information about the protest events on local websites or upload it to YouTube, so that they could be noticed by international media and generally a wide Western audience. This is exactly what happened with the video of the murder of Neda Soltani, which was shown by most Western TV channels.

In contrast to the broad but least active community of #HelpIran Election "sympathizers", the remaining designated groups had a longer life span. Towards the end but-


* Avatar - a graphic image of the user on a social network or Twitter (approx. author's note).

** Tweet - a term of the microblogging service Twitter, denoting a post published by a user on his Twitter (author's note).

*** 1338 is the year 2009, according to the Iranian calendar (author's note).

page 11

The #FreeIran tag continued to function, although it reduced the number of posts per day. Also, unlike # HelpIran Election, where each member used an average of 1.09 messages, #FreeIran had an average number of tweets per user of 15.4, while #Sohrab, which, like #GR88 and #Neda, also did not cease to exist by November 2009, had an average number of tweets per user. 11.99 12. This shows the difference between the actual involvement of people in protests and the one-time message that most #HelpIranElection users sent.

However, it should be noted that the largest number of messages in the #FreeIran group occurred on September 18 and amounted to about 600 messages, and their greatest concentration was observed in the period from August 10 to August 18: then every day they exceeded the threshold of 400 messages-the peak of mass protests. On most other days, their number didn't exceed 100-200 tweets.

Similar dynamics are typical for the #GR88, #Neda, and #Sohrab communities. Note the lack of mass participation in these groups of supporters of the "Green Movement".

HINDERING ONLINE PROTESTS

In general, it is safe to state that, despite the widespread use of Twitter and other social networks among supporters of the "Green Movement", the use of networks among protesters was still limited, since most of them simply did not have access to the Internet.13

In terms of the number of Internet users, Iran significantly lagged not only behind the global average, but also behind most countries of the Arab world. In 2009, this figure reached 11 people per 100 inhabitants, which is 2.3 times less than the global average (25 people), the same number of times less than Egypt (25 people) and 3 times less than Tunisia (34 people).14. But in terms of the number of Internet bloggers, the country ranked 3rd in the world in 2009, having more than 60 thousand people on the Iranian Internet. there are 15 actively supported blogs.

Opposition Internet activity, increased activity in Iranian blogs, the creation of a large number of protest sites, as well as the constant posting of new videos on YouTube-all this played a role in organizing online protests, as well as in informing the world community.

Online activities took away the strength of Protestants. A large amount of all sorts of material in social networks was especially confusing for those who did not have much experience of Internet activity: these people simply did not yet know how to find the necessary information. In addition, the Iranian security services organized several successful campaigns to create alternative sites that spread false information about the organization of protests, and also carried out a number of successful DoS attacks* on opposition sites.

Most of the protest actions were coordinated offline, i.e. through direct, direct contact between the participants of the protests on the streets. This is not to say that the Green Movement had a clear organizational structure and an institutional hierarchy. It was, to a large extent, an emotional impulse of people who sought to organize themselves, having common goals and moods. At the same time, undoubtedly, some of the protesters had


* DoS attack - an attack by hackers on a site or computer system to disable them (approx. author's note).

page 12

some experience of protest actions, because at that time or in the past they were members of the Islamic Association*, which since the mid-1990s was formed from supporters of the reformist opposition. They found the experience of semi-legal activities at universities and the veiled exchange of information useful.

The Iranian authorities did not remain at a loss for long. Having vast experience in controlling the Internet, they have dramatically stepped up their activities. Iran has one of the most advanced web filtering systems in the world, with widespread blocking of specific sites. All social networks, video hosting sites, foreign media sites, and opposition blogs were closed for access.

Sometimes, Iranians living abroad flew to Iran and upon arrival at the airport asked for passwords to their Facebook account16.

The Iranian security services have opened a branch to fight cybercrime. However, his website "Gerdab" ("Maelstrom") was directly engaged in the fight against the opposition and attracting other segments of society to this activity: the site posted photos of demonstrators and offered those who wanted to "do their duty" - to help identify those who threaten national security.

Another way in which the Iranian government has responded to the activity of Iranians in cyberspace inside and outside the country is by creating similar websites to confuse and distract visitors. For example, one of the branches of the Iranian security services created the site Sabz Alavi (Green Alavi) and announced that they were always "green", true followers of the Prophet Muhammad 17. The opposition sites themselves were subjected to numerous DoS attacks.

The Internet control measures taken by the Iranian authorities were still not effective enough, as many Iranian Internet users during the censorship that existed in the 1990s and 2000s learned to circumvent it by using various proxy servers and other tools, such as special programs developed in China, to circumvent restrictions on the Chinese internet. Therefore, online activity in the country has not subsided.

A very effective obstacle to the street protest movement turned out to be simple mobile phone outages, which were constantly recorded in Tehran and other cities of the country, especially in the first weeks of protests.

* * *

It can be stated that the "Green Movement" at the peak of its growth consisted of different groups of the population, although its main components were the urban middle class and university students. The growth of the protest movement was supported first by the euphoria of the participants, and then by anger and rage caused by the death of a number of opposition members.

Then, when the level of protests began to decline, the lack of organizational networks connecting people from different classes, as well as the lack of coordination between the actions of the opposition in the network and in real situations on the streets, affected the social division and limited the development of the protest movement.

Although the Green Movement had the support of reformist leaders, political parties, online communities, mass media, and even a part of the Shiite clergy, it did not have a well-established institutional framework. Perhaps in the future, this group of the Iranian population will demonstrate greater cohesion and institutional organization at the right time.


* Islamic Association - an organization that exists in every university in Iran. It is formed by students themselves through elections (author's note).

1 Final results of the presidential election / / Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 13.06.2009 - http://moi.ir/Portal/Home/ShowPage.aspx?Object=News&CategoryID=832a711b-95fe-4505- 8aa338f5e17309c9&LayoutID=dd8faff4-f71b-4c659aef-a1b6d0160be3&ID=5e30ab89-e376- 434b813f-8c22255158e1 (на перс. яз.)

Fletcher M. 2 Scuffles in Tehran as Ahmadinejad and Mousavi both claim victory // The Times (London). 13.06.2009 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6489120.ece

Mesamed V. I. 3 Iran: repressions against opposition figures // Middle East Institute. 13.09.2009 - www.iimes.ru/rus/stat/2009/13-09-09.htm

Sazhin V. I. 4 Iran: February-2010: Military and political situation // Middle East Institute. 30.03.2010 - www.iimes.ru/rus/stat/2010/30-03-10a.htm

Connett D. 5 Protesters cry: "Death to Khamenei" // The Independent. 21.06.2009 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/protesters-cry-death-tokhamenei-1711 553.html

Harris K. 6 The Brokered Exuberance of the Middle Class: An Ethnographic Analysis of Iran's 2009 Green Movement // Mobilization: An International Quarterly. 2012. Vol. 17. N 4. December. P. 436.

7 The Iranian Election on Twitter: The First Eighteen Days // Web Ecology Project. Pub. 1. 26.06.2009. P. 4 - http://www.webecologyproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/WEP-twitterFINAL.pdf

Parr B. 8 Mindblowing #IranElection stats: 221 744 tweets per hour at peak // Mashable. 17.06.2009 - http://mashable.com/2009/06/17/iranelection-crisis-numbers

9 The Iranian Election on Twitter: The First Eighteen Days... P. 2.

10 What does 1,4 million tweets looks like? The #IranElection data: (update on USC Public Diplomacy blog post) // Wandren PD: A testing ground for new possibilities. 29.11.2009 - http://www.wandrenpd.com/2009/11/what-does-1-4-million-tweets-lookslike-the-iranelection -data-update-on-uscpublic-diplomacy-blog-post/

Fisher A. 11 Bullets with Butterfly Wings: Tweets, Protest Networks, and the Iranian Election // Media, Power, and Politics in the Digital Age: The 2009 Presidential Election Uprising in Iran. Lanham, 2010. P. 110.

12 Ibidem.

Harris K. 13 The Brokered Exuberance of the Middle Class: An Ethnographic Analysis of Iran's 2009 Green Movement... P. 443-445.

Harris K. 14 Op. cit.

Parsi Т., Elliott D., Disney P. 15 Silencing Iran's Twitterati: How U.S. Sanctions Muzzle Iran's Online Opposition // Media, Power, and Politics in the Digital Age: The 2009 Presidential Election Uprising in Iran. Maryland, 2010. P. 161-162; Internet in Iran // OpenNet Initiative. 16.06.2009 - https://opennet.net/research/profiles/iran#footnote5_oi6x5t9

Fassihi F. 16 Iranian crackdown goes global // Wall Street Journal. 04.12.2009 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125978649644673331.html

17 The creation of "Green Alavi" was announced / / Fars News Agency. 01.11.2009 - http://www.farsnews.net/newstext.php?nn=8808100183 (in Persian)


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