Jun 23, 2009

Iran dot net

As the political and social consequences of a networked world slowly unfold, Iran has become the test case for how repressive regimes fit into the worldwide web. To that end, the New York Times has a piece today about the "laboratory" that the whole world is watching:

At one time, authoritarian regimes could draw a shroud around the events in their countries by simply snipping the long-distance phone lines and restricting a few foreigners. But this is the new arena of censorship in the 21st century, a world where cellphone cameras, Twitter accounts and all the trappings of the World Wide Web have changed the ancient calculus of how much power governments actually have to sequester their nations from the eyes of the world and make it difficult for their own people to gather, dissent and rebel.

Iran’s sometimes faltering attempts to come to grips with this new reality are providing a laboratory for what can and cannot be done in this new media age — and providing lessons to other governments, watching with calculated interest from afar, about what they may be able to get away with should their own citizens take to the streets.

One early lesson is that it is easier for Iranian authorities to limit images and information within their own country than it is to stop them from spreading rapidly to the outside world. While Iran has severely restricted Internet access, a loose worldwide network of sympathizers has risen up to help keep activists and spontaneous filmmakers connected.

Of course, repressive regimes also monitor these new nodes of communication in hopes of disrupting and punishing dissent.

Meantime, the mainstream media is struggling to adapt to these changes. News outlets have much more information to sift through to determine what they should report - and what they can verify, and must also strike a balance between becoming massive retweeting tools and capturing the larger political and social narratives in their storytelling.

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