Social Media Facilitates Iran Student Protests

, Sarah Carlsruh, 1 Comment

On Monday, December 7th—Iran’s national Student Day—thousands of students at Universities across Iran commemorated the 1953 murder of three student protestors of monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. While demonstrations occur on this day every year, they have always represented an anti-American sentiment; this year they protested the government. Tehran University has long been a center for government protests and this Student Day—with green banners flying amidst tear gas and anti-riot police batons—was no different. Protests occurred on campuses across the country.

The anti-government Green Movement, led in large part by anti-government students, began in earnest after a highly dubious victory by incumbent President Ahmadinejad in the June 12th Presidential elections. The outcry against the government’s doubtful legitimacy reveals two fundamental fractures in Iranian society: the rift between clerics and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the rift between the people and the government.

The Iranian government has characteristically made efforts to repress these opposition voices. According to a December 7th article, “journalists working for foreign news agencies received a text that their licenses had been suspended for three days, a move clearly meant to prevent media exposure. Internet and mobile phone networks were also shut down.” While the media has been muffled, it is increasingly impossible for any government to silence the voices made clear through Facebook, Twitter, and a number of internet sites.

A graph shows the spike in Twitter volume during the protests, revealing that hundreds of tweets were occurring to spread the opposition voice. Videos taken during the protests have been posted on YouTube and show the streets full of protesting students and even incidences of anti-riot force repression. One tweet reported “Basij [a paramilitary militia founded under former Ayatollah Khomeini and a significant anti-riot force in these protests] attacks students with pepper gas. Student injured in front of science faculty” with a link to video evidence on the Green Power-Ghodrate Sabz Facebook page. This page has nearly 6,000 fans and 750 videos.

Since the Islamic Republic of Iran’s government is increasingly unable to control the minds and voices of the people, the only way to fight back is through reciprocal media warfare. The TehranBureau article said that: “Conservative media outlets like Fars and Kayhan provide voice to the government, presenting their own version of events which have all the trademarks of a psychological warfare and disinformation campaign.”

Sarah Carlsruh is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.