Iran Protests: Tech Tools at Work

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As political tensions increase in Iran, online communities are ramping up their opposition efforts. The Iranian government continues to restrict access to the Web, but many opposition supporters are still able to share news and information online.

Image courtesy of Shahram Sharif.

In response to the publicity around opposition protests, Iran has reportedly begun the process of restricting the movements of foreign journalists. But when any Iranian citizen carrying a cell phone or camera can become an instant journalist, how important is Iran's crackdown on foreign media?

Here's a breakdown of current online tools in use in Iran.


Despite the fact that the government is trying to stop Iranians from using Twitter by blocking the site and halting access to SMS services within the country, tech savvy protesters continue to find ways to deliver their messages of 140 characters or less.

Twitter has become so important to Iranian protesters, or at least perceived as such, the microblogging network rescheduled a maintenance hour planned for Monday night Pacific Time. The shutdown would have made Twitter inaccessible during the day in Iran, cutting off an important tool used by opposition supporters to disseminate information. Working with its hosting partner, NTT America, Twitter was able to reschedule that maintenance to Tuesday from 2 to 3 p.m. Pacific, which is 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in Iran.

In a blog post, Twitter cofounder Biz Stone acknowledged "the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran." It's hard to know how effective and widespread Twitter is as an organizing tool, but the microblogging network has clearly become a way for protesters to share information with each other and the world.

Twitter's power isn't restricted to the streets of Tehran either. Check out our previous coverage of how outrage on Twitter has caused some American cable news networks to increase their coverage of the trouble in Iran.


Wary that opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi Mousavi was using Facebook to organize his campaign, the Iranian government cut off and then restored access to Facebook in late May.

After Friday's vote, access to Facebook was again cut off to Iranians, and current reports indicate the social network is still inaccessible within the Islamic Republic.


Since the Iranian government continues to block specific sites, especially social networks, Iranians are using proxy servers to get around regional restrictions. A proxy server can mask your real location, and allow you to fool regional censorship filters, letting you access locallly blocked sites.

Despite the effectiveness of this workaround, the capability to access proxy servers is starting to become more of a challenge for Iranian activists. The Wall Street Journal reports that activists are trying to stay one step ahead of government censors who are actively blocking new proxies.

Blogger Phillip Weiss says Iranians are starting to run out of available proxy servers and issued a plea for those who are "technically capable" to set up proxies for Iranians to use. In response, San Francisco-based blogger Austin Heap has posted a do-it-yourself guide on how to create a proxy.

Part of the reason Iranians are running out of proxies stems from activists outside Iran eager to lend a hand who post available proxies via Twitter. Twitter user manukaj warned that broadcasting this information on Twitter only helps Iranian officials block new proxies that much faster.


While some users are content to organize rallies and disseminate information online, others are using their technical prowess to launch a series of cyber attacks against Iranian government Web sites.

An anonymous user created a public document online meant to create worldwide, distributed denial-of-service attacks against Iranian government Web sites. The document lists as targets 43 different Web sites, including state-controlled news agencies, government agency sites, and President Ahmadinejad's own Web site.

The intent of the DDOS attacks, according to the letter, is to "block Ahmadinjead's [sic] governments flow of information in many of its key components."

The document uses Page Reboot, an autorefresh tool, as a vehicle for the attacks against Iranian Web sites. But the reaction was so overwhelming that Page Reboot had to shut down. In fact, the attacks may have put the site out of business. According to a landing page currently on the site, the traffic spike increased server costs to the point where the owner cannot afford to keep Page Reboot up and running.

YouTube and Flickr

Worldwide access to relatively inexpensive recording equipment has enabled a constant flow of still images and video to come out of Iran. Security officials within the Islamic Republic are reportedly forbidding foreign journalists to cover today's protests in Tehran. Meanwhile, Iran's citizens continue to record and upload images of the exuberance of protesters, as well as the brutality of Iranian security officials.

If you are interested in seeing some of the video coming out of Iran, check out the collection of YouTube videos on The Atlantic's The Daily Dish run by blogger and new media critic Andrew Sullivan. Be warned, however, you may find these graphic images disturbing.

For still images, check out the Flickr photostreams of Mousavi1388, Parsaoffline and Sharif.

Is Web 2.0 telling the whole story?

By most reports, Iranian opposition supporters are young and educated, and are concentrated in urban areas and well versed in the ways of the Web. Supporters of President Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, are reportedly poorer and concentrated in rural areas.

Since Ahamdinejad's supporters are unlikely to have equal access to the Internet, the widespread use of social networks, and other Web tools, may only be showing one view of the election controversy. Regardless, this week's protests in Iran are an example of how hard it is becoming for oppressive governments to clamp down on a tech-savvy population.

Using tools like Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, opposition supporters have been able to build their own narrative around the political turmoil despite attempts at government interference.

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