Radio Free Europe has an interesting article this week on how Iranian internet censorship authorities, among the most restrictive in the world, have recently decided to unblock Facebook.  Iranian internet users had been blocked from using Facebook in 2006 but the decision was reversed this past February, to the surprise and confusion of many internet activists and users.

Christophe Ginist of Internet Without Borders hypothesizes that the recent changes may be an attempt to win support for the regime as the June presidential election approaches.  He states, “During election periods, as in the case of Iran, it allows the government to give the impression that it is offering more freedom… But that’s absolutely not what’s happening, because the first thing that happens following an opening is that filters and controls are established. It means that they reopen Facebook when they have the possibility to put people in place who can control it.”

Ginist raises a good point: the internet is a double edged sword.  While it allows activists and dissidents the opportunity to communicate and share ideas, it also allows hard-liners and government supporters to do the same thing. Each side has the opportunity to solidify and mobilize its supporters.  Ebrahim Nabavi, a Belgium-based satirist, put it best: “It’s not like we’re the only people who need Facebook to get in touch with people inside Iran… Mesbah Yazdi [an ultra hard-line ayatollah said to be the spiritual mentor of current President Mahmud Ahmadinejad] also needs the Internet to be in touch with the supporters of the kind of Islam he preaches in Italy, Britain, and elsewhere.”

Newsweek notes, “Iranian cyberspace has begun to mirror the complexity of contemporary Iranian politics, with different factions—religious, paramilitary and secular—competing for influence”.  As the presidential election approaches and continues to heat up, it is certain that all of the excitement of election politics – the debates, the mud-slinging, etc- will overflow into cyberspace as well.  If John McCain is any indicator of politicians on Twitter, then I would love to see Ahmadinejahd’s tweets.

As has been previously discussed on this blog, Facebook and other social networking site can be enormously helpful tools for activists since they allow us to share information with a wide audience quickly.  This viral method of communication played a vital role in our own recent Presidential election, and I am excited to see how it will affect the political climate in Iran as June approaches.

Also, I wish that someone had captured some video of Ahmadinejahd having a shoe thrown at him last week and had posted it on Youtube.  That would be worth tweeting about.

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