'WHERE IS MY VOTE?' ICT Politics in the Aftermath of Iran's Presidential Election

Article excerpt

Abstract

Iran's 2009 presidential election was a controversial political event and came prominently into global media focus. Alleged large-scale frauds in the election led to widespread protests which faced repressive reaction of the regime. In the absence of independent media, the story of the political upheaval was brought to the world by the protesters' extensive use of mobile phones and the Internet. This paper attempts to illuminate the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the aftermath of the election and in the development of the opposition Green Movement. 'Political Opportunity Structures' - the cornerstone of social movement theories - was adopted as the theoretical framework. We argue that the Internet allowed the Green Movement to enhance its political opportunities through reaching international allies and by weakening the repressive capacity of Iran's regime. Furthermore, the Green Movement used ICTs as an organizational resource to back-up demonstrations and gatherings. The ability of ICTs to promote a collective identity within the Green Movement and to create a discursive opportunity is also discussed.

Keywords: Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) - Political Opportunities - Green Movement - Mobile Phones - Discursive Opportunities

Introduction

Iran's 2009 presidential election was followed by widespread protests alleging large-scale fraud and vote-rigging. Having banned and controlled independent and foreign media, the regime ruthlessly repressed the protesters to immediately silence them. However, the protesters widely took advantage of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to disclose the regime's brutality through posting photos and video footage taken by mobile phones on the Internet. The regime's measures failed to control the flow of news and information going out of the country. The Green Movement, which emerged out of the protests, managed to use ICTs - particularly the Internet - as an effective organizational resource to keep the protests going. Satellite channels such as BBC Persian and Voice of America also played significant roles, particularly in disseminating news and information.

Some have called the post-election aftermath a 'Twitter Revolution' due to the astonishing role of social networking sites (Berman 2009). During the heated moments of the turmoil, the US State Department asked Twitter to postpone its planned maintenance to allow Iranian protesters to use the service for communicative purposes (Morozov 2009). Google and Facebook announced that they would add a Farsi version to their websites in response to widespread use during the protests (Ahmed 2009). The critical role of the Internet in the protests was recognised by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences as one of the ten most influential Internet moments of the decade (The Ten Most Influential Internet Moments of the Decade 2009).

Research on the impact of new communication technologies on social movements dates back to the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization conference held in 1999 (Levi & Olson 2000). A major part of the literature in this area comes from developed countries' experiences in facing new social movements, such as environmental and human rights movements (Keck & Sikkink 1998; Castells 1997; McCaughey & Ayers 2003). While the Internet is a highly malleable and context-sensitive technology (Castells 2001), we believe that investigating the implications of this technology in a developing country's context - such as Iran - will provide insights into the role of ICTs in contemporary politics. Despite the importance of the event, there has not been any scientific attempt to offer insight into the Internet's role in the post-election protests.

A Brief History of ICT and its Politics in Iran

In most countries, both industrialised and developing, the Internet has been introduced by research institutes (Bazaar & Boalch 1997). …