The internet has existed since 1983. However, its widespread usage did not begin until the mid 1990’s. Since then, other services and devices to communicate have been created ranging from pagers to cell phones and laptops to tablets. All of these have increased the way we all interact with our friends and family. In other cases they have been used as a vital means of communication during emergencies, a case in point being the 2009 presidential elections in Iran. The article “Where is my vote? ICT politics in the aftermath of Iran’s presidential election.” M.H. Sohrabi-Haghighat & S. Mansouri will further explain why this crisis necessitated the use of social media. Without the internet and social media as an outlet, there may not have been any attention drawn to such a desperate situation. The internet has become as essential to quality of life as a motor vehicle. The internet and most accompanying devices are essential to everyone in our current cultural climate. It could be possible to surmise that if these modern amenities existed in the past, the reactions would be faster and more productive.
The 2009 Iranian presidential election was mired in controversy. The election, which many throughout Iran viewed as corrupt due to perceptions of fraud and vote rigging (Sohrabi-Haghighat and Mansouri, 2010), gave rise to numerous protests. Although the Iranian government attempted to suppress information, protestors were able to organize and spread information over internet channels, particularly social media platforms such as Twitter. The use of Information and Communication Technologies, or ICTs, was the foundation for protests as well as the rise of the Green Movement, the main resistance to the Iranian regime.
The use of the internet and social media could have had a major impact in the United States. In 2001, during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, social media was nonexistent in its current form. The information getting out to the rest of the country was delayed and incomplete. At times it was even a complete falsehood, such as the car bomb being detonated at the State Department building. Had social media been available then, it is likely that some of the panic experienced by other major American cities could have been curtailed. A terrorist attack is certainly not on the same plane as a corrupt election, but what they do have in common is the need for up to the minute information amidst chaos.
The root of the protests stem from allegations against large-scale frauds, including vote-rigging, which led to numerous protests throughout Iran following the 2009 election (Sohrabi-Haghighat and Mansouri, 2010). Iran had previously implemented controls to suppress any information that represented a threat to the Iranian regime. For instance, Iran had control over its own local media channels which allowed it to control the information being spread. However, the internet represented a new platform by which information could flow, so the Green Movement, which formed out of the protests, began to rely on internet channels to spread information. These platforms allowed for the free flow of information, so the Iranian government could not control the information being spread. Much of the information being revealed about the Iranian regime involved brutality inflicted upon protestors, which was photographed and filmed through the use of mobile phones, and uploaded to social media channels (Sohrabi-Haghighat and Mansouri, 2010). The regime’s brutal attempts to stifle these protests through increased brutality against protestors only fueled the Green Movement even more, because this brutalization of protestors was being seen throughout Iran on social media.
The Iranian government did identify benefits to ICTs, but its main concern was how these channels could impact public opinion. Many aspects of the internet remained outside the control of the Iranian government. ICTs also became the key source of strength for the resistance, as the Green Movement was able to create what is now referred to as a ‘Twitter Revolution’ (Sohrabi-Haghighat and Mansouri, 2010). Essentially, the main elements of the resistance came from sharing information and organizing gathering places for protests through social media.
Attempting to micromanage every aspect of people’s lives and how they use the internet is a fool’s errand and doesn’t breed confidence in a country’s leaders. It is completely unethical and this type of totalitarian regime has been shown time and again to not be able to survive. What it does is create disdain within the country and across the globe as other countries with a better system take notice to possibly intervene.
Because of the brutality being committed against protestors who identified with the Green Movement, and because of the Green Movement’s support by the United States, the US State Department asked Twitter if it could delay maintenance it had planned that may have closed the site during this time (Sohrabi-Haghighat and Mansouri, 2010). In addition, American companies such as Google and Facebook both announced they would be including Farsi on their websites in order to better service local protestors (Sohrabi-Haghighat and Mansouri, 2010). Thus, the role of internet companies was also essential in providing for the flow of information that the Iranian government had been trying to suppress.
The main challenge to the Iranian regime was that it could no longer control the narrative it wished to present, and that any attempt to crack down on protestors with increased brutality would be captured on a mobile phone and spread. The regime’s main initial goal was to limit protests through brutality. One instance involves a girl that had been shot in the street (Sohrabi-Haghighat and Mansouri, 2010), which was filmed and spread throughout the world. The girl, whose name was Neda, became a martyr that was known internationally (Sohrabi-Haghighat and Mansouri, 2010). Incidents such as these only made the resisting Green Movement even stronger, as many who witnessed the event on social media found their sympathies to be with the Green Movement, rather than the Iranian regime. This highlights how the internet can be used to create symbols and martyrs that gain international and local support. While the strategy of applying extreme brutality against protests may have worked for the Iranian regime in the past, due to its control of the media, this strategy backfired in the age of social media, because it was unable to control these platforms.
As an organizational tool, the internet became a way for protestors to gather information and organize. For many others who were neutral at the start of the protests, the information they were presented with, including the brutality of the Iranian regime against all protestors, made they sympathize with the Green Movement, which only increased the amount of resistance. Before this point, Iran had been able to successfully control all aspects of the media, including television, radio, and print media. This meant that it could decide which information it wanted to present to the Iranian public, and what types of information it wanted to suppress. The rise of ICTs represents the loss of control of information, as the spreading of information was no longer dependent on controlled media outlets. As a global phenomenon, the internet cannot be controlled by one government.
Based on the rise of the Green Movement following the 2009 Iranian election, ICTs are essential for the flow of information. Governments are no longer able to control what their citizens are seeing online, as social media sites operate independently. While Iran had previously had control over information by controlling its media companies, the internet created a situation where this control would be lost. Although Iran’s previous strategy against protestors was to be increasingly brutal, we can see how ICTs made this strategy backfire, as the Green Movement was able to not only increase its support locally, but also by many others throughout the world who condemned the Iranian regime.
There are various ways in which the various appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos could be applied to understand the impact that the usage of the internet had on the Iranian revolution. For instance, in applying ethos, the individuals who sparked off the revolution had to realize that the regime was acting in contradiction to the cultures and the ethical demands of the society. The logical move was that the revolution of the Green Movement be fashioned in such a way that it aligns to the cultural expectations of the people of Iran. To gain traction, the Iranian populace had to be convinced that the actions of the Green Movement was not merely the inception of another coup which would later be replaced by a more dictatorial regime. To achieve this effect, the founders of the Green Movement relied heavily on sharing quotes, pictures, and videos that would inspire the Iranian populace not only to desire change, but also work towards the realization of the change. In a way, the ethos appeal in the usage of the internet meant the restoration of the ideals and cultures of the Iranian people.
In addition to the use of ethos, pathos is another form of appeal that was heavily used. Pathos refers to the appeal to the emotions of the other individuals or groups. While the Iranian regime had a firm grip on the broadcast media, controlling the content and monitoring the news to make sure it is selective and not a true representation of what was actually taking place, it was much difficult upholding the same level of control on the internet. To this end, those who clamored for change resorted to the use of the internet as a viable alternative. To appeal to the emotions of the masses, the information relayed had to have the capacity to display the moral decadence that was eating away the society and the upheavals that bedeviled the country. A case in point was the widely shared brutal murder of Neda, a girl whose death was widely publicized across the globe. The fact that such images were able to reach a global audience not only elicited global condemnation for the excess of the regime, but also inspired the people of Iran to act by voicing their opposition towards the regime while also increasing support for revolutionary endeavors such as the Green Movement.
Finally, the use of the internet in opposing the Iranian regime also made use of logos, or the appeal to logic. It was not in doubt that the once progressive regime had now stagnated, and its leaders engaged in corrupt deeds that were largely riddled in impunity. There had effective emerged a ruling class whose powers were unchecked, and who were aloof to the challenges that faced the larger populace. To this end, the internet was used a means through which to relay such information throughout the country and even beyond its borders. The information on the internet highlighted the deplorable social and economic conditions that the citizens of Iran were subjected to while their leaders lived in opulence. The use of such features such as the Farsi provided by Google and Facebook to aid in the transmission of information also meant that the message had been vetted and aided in boosting its credibility. It was also through the internet that the resistance movements were able to lay out their agenda, thereby acting as a forum through which new members could be recruited to support their cause. At the end of it all, it was through such concerted efforts on the internet that the revolution was sparked, garnered national support, and eventually succeeded in toppling of a regime that had been increasingly out of touch with the realities and growing weariness of its citizens.
In conclusion, the use of the internet, social media, and all compatible devices are essential to quality of life. In particular how it helped the citizens of Iraq draw attention to the corrupt election and make the world aware. Even in the United States it has been shown that we can communicate to our loved ones through social media to update on health status. Facebook has the mark safe option for those affected by storms and active shooters. Without it more panic would set in.
- Sohrabi-Haghighat, M. H., & Mansouri, S. (2010). Where is my vote? ICT politics in the aftermath of Iran’s presidential election. International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society, 8(1), 24-41.