Blogs and Bullets

download Blogs and Bullets

of 36

  • date post

  • Category


  • view

  • download


Embed Size (px)

Transcript of Blogs and Bullets

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets



    BLOGS AND BULLETSnewmediaincontentiouspolitics

    Sean AdayHenry Farrell

    Marc LynchJohn Sides

    George Washington University

    John KellyMorningside Analytics

    Ethan ZuckermanBerkman Center for Internet and Society

    [ [

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets


    Cover photos: iStock.

    The views expressed in this report arethose of the authors alone. They donot necessarily reflect views of the

    United States Institute of Peace.United States Institute of Peace1200 17th Street NW, Suite 200Washington, DC 20036-3011

    Phone: 202.457.1700Fax: 202.429.6063E-mail: [email protected]:

    Peaceworks No. 65. First published2010.

    2010 by the United States Instituteof Peace

    Aboutthe RepoRt

    In this report from the United States Institute ofPeaces Centers of Innovation for Science, Technol-

    ogy, and Peacebuilding, and Media, Conflict, andPeacebuilding, a team of scholars from The GeorgeWashington University, in cooperation with scholarsfrom Harvard University and Morningside Analytics,critically assesses both the cyberutopian andcyberskeptic perspectives on the impact of newmedia on political movements. The authors propose amore complex approach that looks at the role of newmedia in contentious politics from five interlockinglevels of analysis: individual transformation, intergrouprelations, collective action, regime policies, and exter-nal attention. The authors are particularly indebtedto Sheldon Himelfarb of the Centers of Innovationfor his support and contributions to this project. Theauthors would also like to thank research assistantsBrett Borrowman, Juliet Guaglianone, Chris Mitchell,and Rachel Whitlark.


    Sean Aday is an associate professor of media andpublic affairs and international affairs at The GeorgeWashington University, and director of the Institutefor Public Diplomacy and Global Communication.Henry Farrell is an associate professor of politicalscience at The George Washington University. MarcLynch is an associate professor of political scienceand international affairs at The George WashingtonUniversity and director of the Institute for MiddleEast Studies. John Sides is an assistant professorof political science at The George Washington Uni-versity. John Kelly is the founder and lead scientistat Morningside Analytics and an affiliate of theBerkman Center for Internet and Society at HarvardUniversity. Ethan Zuckerman is senior researcherat the Berkman Center for Internet and Society atHarvard University and also part of the team buildingGlobal Voices, a group of international bloggersbridging cultural and linguistic differences throughweblogs.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets


    Summary . . . 3

    Introduction . . . 5

    Improving the Analysis o New Media and Contentious Politics . . . 6

    Te Political Eects o New Media: Five Levels o Analysis . . . 9

    Illustrating the Approach: Iran . . . 13

    Conclusions and Further Directions . . . 26

    Notes . . . 28

    [ I new media change the politics o unrest,revolution, violence, and civil war, thengovernments and civil society need to

    understand how, so as to better respond

    to events as they are happening. ]

    Peaceworks august 2010 no. 65


  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets


  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets





    New media, such as blogs, witter, Facebook, and Youube, have played a major role inepisodes o contentious political action. hey are oten described as important tools oractivists seeking to replace authoritarian regimes and to promote reedom and democracy,and they have been lauded or their democratizing potential.

    Despite the prominence o witter revolutions, color revolutions, and the like inpublic debate, policymakers and scholars know very little about whether and how newmedia aect contentious politics. Journalistic accounts are inevitably based on anecdotesrather than rigorously designed research.Although data on new media have been sketchy, new tools are emerging that measurelinkage patterns and content as well as track memes across media outlets and thus mightoer resh insights into new media.

    he impact o new media can be better understood through a ramework that considersive levels o analysis: individual transormation, intergroup relations, collective action,regime policies, and external attention. New media have the potential to change how citi-zens think or act, mitigate or exacerbate group conlict, acilitate collective action, spur a

    backlash among regimes, and garner international attention toward a given country.Evidence rom the protests ater the Iranian presidential election in June 2009 suggeststhe utility o examining the role o new media at each o these ive levels.Although there is reason to believe the Iranian case exposes the potential beneits o newmedia, other evidencesuch as the Iranian regimes use o the same social network toolsto harass, identiy, and imprison protesterssuggests that, like any media, the Internetis not a magic bullet. At best, it may be a rusty bullet. Indeed, it is plausible thattraditional media sources were equally i not more important.Scholars and policymakers should adopt a more nuanced view o new medias role indemocratization and social change, one that recognizes that new media can have bothpositive and negative eects.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets


  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets


  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    much more systematic thinking about the relationship between new media and politics. I newmedia change the politics o unrest, revolution, violence, and civil war, then governments andcivil society need to understand how, so as to better respond to events as they are happening.I certain patterns o communication are associated with a greater likelihood o violence, thenthese patterns must be identied as ar in advance as possible. I greater access to inormation

    technology makes violence less likely, then technology policy must be integrated into the stan-dard toolkits or conict prevention and democracy promotion.Tis report casts a critical eye on the conventional wisdom about the eects o new media

    on contentious politics. But it goes beyond skepticism to identiy how our understanding othese complex relationships could be improved and how this knowledge could be applied tomajor policy issues. Te report delineatesfve distinct levels o analysis at which new media mayplausibly aect politics and proposes research questions and hypotheses in each area:individualtransormation, intergroup relations, collective action, regime policies, and external attention.

    Tis report, like the body o work it criticizes, largely draws on the ragmentary evidence andanecdotes that are available. But it also points to new methodologies and technologies thatcould allow or progress. Ultimately, this report will serve as a guide or policymakers and ad-

    vocates seeking to use new media to advance their goals.8

    Improving the Analysis of New Media and Contentious Politics

    Te shaky methodological oundations o the understanding o the relationship between newmedia and contentious politics are a problem or policymakers and activists as well as socialscientists. Acting eectively in the world requires getting the causal relationships right. Re-search design matters. Many claims currently made about the eects o new media are blindto hidden variables, conuse output with impact, or assume causal relationships that may bespurious. Te rst step must thereore be to get the research design right. Te lack o data, aproblem that is addressed later in this report, can be overcome (i.e., through better processingo online inormation in multiple languages), but data will only help i used in the right ways,

    with careul attention to which questions they can help answer.

    Research Design

    Journalistic accounts usually preer good stories to complex argumentsand, in particular,heroic accounts o scrappy activists to serious examination o how new media aect politicalaction. Here are some guidelines or thinking more rigorously about such eects:

    Case selection . he eects o new media cannot be understood by ocusing only on theirapparent successes. Equally important are cases where new media had no eect or evenhad a detrimental eect. For example, blogs and Facebook were credited or sparking

    activism in Egypt but generated much less protest in other Arab countries acing similarpolitical and social problems. o understand the impact (i any) o blogs and Facebook,both successes andailures must be understood.Counterfactuals . Similarly, policymakers, activists, journalists, and scholars must ask

    whether episodes o contentious politics would have emerged without new media. Forexample, in 2005, Egypts elections, as well as American pressure to liberalize, mighthave created openings or protest with or without blogs and Facebook. he RevolutionaryArmed Forces o Columbias (FARC) unpopularity in Columbia might have sparked apopular backlash even without organizing on Facebook. In Iran, the outcome o the 2009

    The report delineates

    fve distinct levels o

    analysis . . . individual


    intergroup relations,

    collective action, regimepolicies, and external


    To understand the impact

    (i any) o blogs and

    Facebook, both successes

    and ailures must be


  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    presidential election might well have triggered similar protests had witter never existed.In other words, new media might play an intermediary role but be neither necessary norsuicient or contentious politics.Hidden variables . Focusing on new media may divert analysts rom the real causes. Abattle between elite actors (say, between the military and business interests) may be the

    real drivers o a political con lict, even i they are only dimly perceived through the lenso new media. Protest activity may derive rom economic hardship, local conlicts, or apolitical event (such as an election or leadership transition) rather than by the new media.In Kuwait, or instance, the death o the emir and transition to a new leader created anopening or political debate or bloggers who had previously been largely apolitical.Causal mechanisms . Political scientists rustrated with indeterminate macronarrativeshave increasingly turned to testing more precise causal mechanismssmall steps withina larger analytical narrative that may be more amenable to testing. It may be impossibleto determine whether Internet access leads to democracy, but it may be possible to test

    whether access to the Internet increases individual propensity to take risky political actionor lowers the transaction costs or organizing a political protest. his could also be useul

    or policy, since research ocused on causal mechanisms can better predict the likelyeects o manipulating a single variable (such as increasing the reedom o inormationavailable to Iranians, or making a concerted eort to change the distribution o opinions

    within the Iraqi blogosphere). It does carry the risk o missing out on system eects.System effects . Changes at one level o analysis, as described below, may be mutuallyreinorcing, but they may also work at cross-purposes with changes at another. An eec-tive research design oten needs to consider the interaction among dierent variables,rather than highlight a single change in isolation. For instance, new media may lowertransaction costs or organizing protests, which would presumably make contentiouspolitics more likely, but may also lead to greater elite awareness o and responsiveness topublic complaints, thereby preempting protests. Or growing access to new media may

    improve the economy and create opportunities that take people away rom politics evenas the costs o such organizing go down.New media outlet selection . Focusing only on sympathetic actors within a broader politi-cal milieu, or on a limited set o new media sources, can produce highly misleading conclu-sions. A study that assumes, or instance, that new media will avor liberal actors mayignore how they also empower illiberal actors. A study o English-language blogs maymiss important and dierent online political dynamics in other national languages. Seeingthe bigger picturewhich includes the political impact o actors who are not onlineandcapturing the ull spectrum o online participants will make or more robust analysis.Strategic interaction . Many accounts ocus on the citizen protesters and ignore rivals asthey take countermeasures. States can respond to the perceived success o activism and

    prevent its replication. hey can also use and regulate new media to serve their own endsand undercut challenges to their authority and reputation.9 Few incumbents want toendure their own witter revolutions, and thus Chinese authorities acted quickly toshut down Short Message Service (SMS) and the Internet when the Uighur protests in

    Xinjiang began in 2009. In the most disturbing maniestation o countermeasures,authoritarian regimes use new media to locate, target, and arrest dissidents, as when theIranians circulated pictures o protesters or loyal members o the public to identiy.10Competing political movements will also adopt eective new technologies, erasing the

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    short-term advantages that might be gained rom the early adoption o new mediaplatorms.


    Te second problem with examinations o new media in contested politics is sparse data.

    Conclusions are generally drawn rom potentially nonrepresentative anecdotes and/or labori-ous hand coding o a subset o easily identied major (usually English-language) media. Atthe same time, there is progress in developing viable techniques to collect and analyze vastamounts o data rom the Internet. Ideally, these techniques will capture the ow o inor-mation and communications in real time, while also reaching back ar enough to establishbaseline conditions rom which signicant deviations stand out. Tey must also identiy andtrace a suciently representative selection o new media. Conict is inevitably Rashomon-like:dierent people will experience and interpret the same events in dierent ways. Focusing ona handul o news outletsor a network o personal contacts within the countrycould biasany observers understanding. Finally, they must work in multiple languages, not only English.

    wo technological changes make it possible to survey a wide array o traditional and new

    media, to acquire a large amount o inormation in real time, and to measure its content rapidlyand accurately. Te rst change is the widespread adoption o syndication ormats, includingRSS and Atom. Syndication allows a sotware program to subscribe to a URL and be alerted

    when new content is posted to that URL. Aggregators designed or research purposes can sub-scribe to thousands o eeds, retrieving every story posted to a weblog or newspaper Web site,a process that is ar more ecient and accurate than previous spidering-based approaches todata collection. Te second change is that tools that allow the automatic analysis o content arebecoming more widespread, powerul, and aordable. ools such as OpenCalais rom Reutersnow oer these capabilities via Web services, allowing researchers to classiy ty thousanddocuments per day or ree. Several new approaches draw on these technological changes:

    Link analysis

    . he networks that exist among Web-based media that habitually inter-link, such as blogs and many traditional media outlets, can be mapped. One way to dothis is to analyze linkage patterns, as Morningside Analytics did with data used in thisstudy. Networks are increasingly recognized as important motivators not only o socialphenomena but also o politically consequential behaviors. For instance, terrorist recruit-ment oten draws on preexisting networks o riends and acquaintances. By mappingnetworks o new media, analysts can determine who is talking to whom, identiy keynodes or hubs that link many other media sources, and identiy apparent patterns oainity or antagonism. Pairing network analysis with basic content analysis allows ana-lysts to identiy the central identity o dierent media sources and o the networks in

    which they exist. A study o the American political blogosphere demonstrated a pattern

    o partisan clustering that may suggest a polarizing eect or new media.11

    Content analysis . he speciic content that is published or discussed in new media andhow this content spreads across networks can be measured. An example o a content-analytic tool is the Berkman Centers Media Cloud project, which this study alsoemploys. It is an open-source sotware package that monitors a large array o digitalmedia, processes massive amounts o text, and identiies and displays patterns.Speciically, it subscribes to tens o thousands o RSS or Atom eeds, collecting newlypublished stories shortly ater publication and indexing them or analysis and retrieval.

    Networks are increasingly

    recognized as important

    motivators not only

    o social phenomena

    but also o politically

    consequential behaviors.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    Media Cloud tracks the appearance o a word or phrase across media sources and acrosstime, as well as words that commonly appear in conjunction with the search term. MediaCloud can compare patterns o appearance and conjunction across sources and alsoretrieve the text or Web page o any story, allowing more detailed and careul analysis.

    he existing system also oers simple graphic visualization o these results.

    Meme tracking

    . Identiying the low o speciic concepts, terms, or issues through newmedia can help establish causality. Richard Dawkins coined the term meme to describeideas or other discrete cultural orms that can spread rom individual to individual, per-haps changing as they do, in processes that are loosely analogous to genetic evolution. As

    Jon Kleinberg and his colleagues argue, sophisticated means o data analysis can be usedto track how individual phrases (which are the closest equivalent to memes that can beanalyzed on the Internet) are transmitted across electronic networks, changing andmutating as they do. Meme tracking can answer the question o whether ideas move romthe blogosphere to the mainstream media or vice versa, or whether they originate withone sector o political society rather than another. For example, Jure Leskovec, LarsBackstrom, and Jon Kleinberg have shown that prominent political memes typically

    spread rom mainstream media to blogs, rather than vice versa, with characteristic pat-terns o spikes in the intensity o discussion.12 racking can also, within limits, help usunderstand how memes change as they move across communities.

    Tis report presents brie examples o how such methodologies might be applied to caseso political contention, and concludes by eshing out an appeal or innovative research to oernew applications and solutions to these data problems.

    The Political Effects of New Media: Five Levels of Analysis

    Determining how new media might aect contentious politics requires unpacking this concept.Tis report argues that there are ve distinct levels at which new media can matter: individual

    transormation, intergroup relations, collective action, regime policies, and external attention.Tese levels capture distinct pathways by which change might be maniest and measured. Terelationship among the dierent levels may be mutually reinorcing, as changes in individualattitudes align with changes in the possibilities or collective action and the nature o externalattention. But they may also be nonlinear: change at the individual level, or instance, may pushin a dierent direction than do the dynamics o external attention.

    Individual Transormation

    New media may aect contentious politics via their eect on individuals who either par-ticipate in or are exposed to such communication ows. Some individuals may develop

    new competencies through their exposure to or participation in new media, allowing them toparticipate more readily or eectively in real-world politics or to process inormation di-erently.13 For example, women may nd it more possible to engage in a mediated publicsphere than in real-world contentious politics, giving them the sorts o experience withpublic political engagement that in the past would have been denied them.14 Alternatively,new media could make citizens more passive, by leading them to conuse online rhetoric

    with substantial political action, diverting their attention away rom productive activities.15New media may also alter or reinorce political attitudes. For example, exposure to jihad-ist Internet sites may play a role in radicalization, just as exposure to liberal or objective

    Sophisticated means

    o data analysis can

    be used to track how

    individual phrases . . .

    are transmitted across

    electronic networks,

    changing and mutating as

    they do.

    Alternatively, new media

    could make citizens

    more passive, by leading

    them to conuse online

    rhetoric with substantial

    political action.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    Internet sites may convince a radical Islamist that violence should not be considered legiti-mate.16 Plausible questions or urther research include:

    Does participation in or exposure to new media lead to new political competencies?Does it change political attitudes, orientations, or identities?Does it intensiy political attitudes, orientations, or identities (i.e., radicalization)?

    Does it produce a more active or passive approach to political action (i.e., reducing orincreasing propensity to engage in o-line political activity)?

    Such questions could be examined through instruments that assess individual attitudes,expectations, or belies, such as experiments, survey research, ocus groups, and structuredinterviews.

    Intergroup Relations

    New media may reshape discussions and debates within and across groups in a society, chang-ing intergroup relationships and attitudes. Optimists see the Internet as generating positiveconnections, spreading inormation, and prolierating points o contact across political, sec-

    tarian, or geographic divides. Pessimists, such as Cass Sunstein, ear its ability to polarize, aspeople seek out congenial relationships and bias-conrming inormation.17 Which is right?Do new media tend to bond group members to one another, or do they bridge memberso dierent groups? Evidence would be ound in shiting patterns o intergroup attitudes,relationships, and connections rather than in new orms o political contentious action per se.For instance, anecdotal evidence suggests that in the Middle East text messages and Internet-circulated videos, such as the cell-phone video o the hanging o Saddam Hussein by what ap-peared to be a Shia militia, have circulated virally throughout the region and sparked genuineoutrage, increasing Sunni identication among many Arabs. But the causal impact o thesenew media remains unclear. Further research questions include:

    Do new media oster or undermine connections among like-minded people or groups?Do new media oster or undermine connections between dierent groups?Do new media have a distinctive role in spreading propaganda or hateul images?Do new media help reinorce in-group identity in preconlict and conlict situations?Can new media be used to urther cross-community communication in post-conlictsituations?

    Link analysis is useul here, as linkages help measure contact within and across political orsocietal boundaries. Survey research can also suggest whether consumers o new media tend toconsume material produced by people in their in-groups, people in their out-groups, or thirdparties. Finally, experimental research in the laboratory or eld can best measure the causal

    impact o exposure to dierent kinds o media.

    Collective Action

    New media may also aect the potential or individuals and groups to organize, protest, or takeother orms o collective action. For example, both the Iranian protests and the ethnic violenceater the 2008 Kenyan election involved collective action, and both are cited, rightly or wrongly,as having been driven by new media. Tere are a number o plausible mechanisms through

    which new media can make action easier or more dicult.18 Social media may reduce the

    Do new media tend to

    bond group members

    to one another, or do

    they bridge members

    o dierent groups?

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    transaction costs or organizing collective action, by acilitating communication and coordina-tion across both physical and social distance. Te networked nature o social media may under-mine hierarchical, top-down movements and generate new orms o at social movements.19

    More broadly, new media may change the political opportunity structure by publicizing splitsamong the ruling elite, creating lines o communication or challengers to engage segments o

    the elite in new ways, or by drawing international attention to local problems. Yet another pos-sibility is that new media will change perceptions about the real distribution o opinion withina society, so that others eel saer coming orward in support o a previously taboo position oncethey see how many online peers share their views. Tese possibilities point to several plausibleresearch questions:

    Do new media reduce transaction costs or contentious political action?Do new media create lat rather than hierarchical networks o collective action?Do new media more eectively create and disseminate ocal points, such as the iconicimage o Neda Agha-Soltans murder in Iran?Do new media change political opportunity structures (e.g., by attracting internationalattention, exposing internal elite divisions and issures, or by building new openings into

    the political elite)?Do new media create dierent collective understandings o the distribution o societalopinion (i.e., change belies about what others believe)?

    Tis level o analysis would most likely require careul case study research in order to assessthe changes produced by the various proposed mechanisms.

    Regime Policies

    Much literature on new media and contentious politics has implicitly assumed that these neworms o communication primarily help activists against regimes. But although regimes haveoten been caught o guard by new media activism, they have also responded by co-opting,shutting down, or overwhelming activists.20 Regimes may learn rom the experience o othercountries and increasingly act preemptively against particular new media orms when conictmight be brewing (or example, Chinas blocking witter during a tense period shortly ater theIranian witter revolution). actics at the disposal o such regimes, which oten boast expe-rienced and unconstrained intelligence services and secret police, include the direct repressiono protesters (oten acilitated by online records and identities), alse-ag operations designedto disrupt opposition ormations, intererence with service providers (such as shutting downFacebook, witter, or even the Internet), and mobilizing their own deenders online. Suchbehaviors suggest these research questions, among others:

    Do repressive regimes learn about how to deal with new media rom other regimes

    experiences?Is the learning curve getting easier or repressive regimes over time? 21

    Do leaders actively use new media to react to others use o new media, or both?Can regimes use new media just as eectively as do citizens?Can regimes divert attention rom domestic challenges by using new media to whip uppatriotism and xenophobia among their populations?

    Regimes may learn rom

    the experience o other

    countries and increasingly

    act preemptively against

    particular new media

    orms when conict might

    be brewing.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    External Attention

    New media may garner attention rom outside actors, mobilizing political sympathy or hostil-ity and creating new opportunities to generate power internally. Te Iranian witterers, orinstance, ramed the conrontations around images and actions that attracted Western atten-tion. But their success in doing so likely depended on the rebroadcast o images and ootage

    in traditional (mostly English-language) media. Lebanons March 14 movement sought to useboth old and new media to build a sense o identity with Western audiences, in ways deniedto Hezbollah. Te Save Darur campaign has arguably attracted ar more attention to thatconict than other conicts in Arica have garnered.

    Te limits o Internet solidarity are also clear. Te Save Darur movement mobilized at-tention and sympathy, but ailed to save Darur. Te millions o witterers who colored theirproles green in support o the Iranian protesters could not prevent the Iranian regime romattacking its opposition. As one tweet cruelly put it, Note to would-be revolutionaries: youcan remove the green tint rom your pictures now; it didnt work.22 Te role o new media inshaping external attention and intervention leads to these questions:

    What attracts external attention to one country (say Sudan) and not another (Congo)?

    How does inormation bias (say, perceptions generated by liberal, educated bridgeblog-gers) distort external attention?23

    Does external attention lead to cheap talk among external supporters like green witterproiles, or more costly actions (money, protest)?Can international attention push protesters to take risks in the mistaken belie that they

    will get substantial support rom abroad?When, i ever, can external attention on its own have internal political consequences? 24

    Do new media create linkages with diasporas, and can these linkages lead to radicalization? 25

    Do new media aect the ability o states to engage in counterinsurgency strategies?

    SummaryTese ve levels provide an organizational ramework or better understanding when newmedia serve a unctionaland a dysunctionalrole in contentious politics. Te hypothesessuggested at each level can then be tested using the guidelines or research design and the ap-propriate new data sources discussed in the rst section. Do communication patterns onlinechange in advance o or ater outbreaks o contentious politics? Does communication acrossonline networks resemble or dier rom communication in o-line networks or the mass me-dia? Is there evidence o individual attitude or behavioral change? Tis ramework should alsohelp inorm policy priorities, whether related to rhetorical action (e.g., did Clintons One In-ternet speech have a blowback eect by reinorcing ears o U.S. hegemony online?) or activeengagement in government-sponsored hacking in support o protest movements.26

    Tis report next ocuses on Iran, with reerence where appropriate to other cases, to illus-trate how this ramework might be applied. But it must be emphasized that more questionsthan answers are presented, and that even preliminary assessments o these questions requiresystematic comparative research across a wider range o cases and with better data.

    The limits o Internet

    solidarity are also

    clear. The Save Darur

    movement mobilized

    attention and sympathy,

    but ailed to save Darur.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    Illustrating the Approach: Iran

    Te role o social media has been a major theme in the analysis o the turbulent events in Iranin the year ollowing the June 12, 2009, presidential election. Many observers saw new mediaas a necessary (i not sucient) cause o the dramatic rise o the protest movement ollowingthe election, while a subsequent backlash has sought to dismiss their signicance. Te stakes

    are high both or analysis and or policy, especially as a tentative consensus seems to haveemerged that one o the ew things that the United States can useully do or the Iranian op-position is to push or more Internet reedoms.27 Our ramework can help to sort throughthe conicting claims by ocusing on much more specic causal connections between the newmedia and Irans political process.

    Tere are reasons to expect new media to matter in Iran independently o observed out-comes. Iran has seen explosive growth in Internet use over the last several years; International

    elecommunications Union data suggests that 32.3 percent o Iranians used the Internet in2007, compared to 4.7 percent in 2002.28 Among urbanized youth populations likely to beinvolved in contentious politics, Internet usage is almost certainly higher. It should come asno surprise that Iranian youth and reormists would rapidly take to the Internet as an outlet

    or expression and organization. Te rapid evolution o a robust Iranian blogosphere in the2000sand the regimes subsequent crackdown when it became too prominentechoes pastexperiences o the rapid rise o independent and reormist newspapers in the 1990s.29 Indeed,

    with an estimated 75,000 blogs, the Iranian blogosphere may exceed the size o its entire Arabcounterpart.30

    On the other hand, ater a brie period o relatively liberal access to the Internet, the na-tional government imposed a ltering regime that makes it dicult or citizens to access largenumbers o Web sites. In act, according to a recent study, the Internet was more heavily cen-sored in Iran than in any country included in the sample.31 Te government has also impededthe spread o broadband access, earing that it would urther enable Iranians to access sensitivecultural and political material that might undermine the governments control over terrestrial

    broadcasting and challenge both prevailing mores and the regimes legitimacy. As attentionocused on the Internets role in the protests ollowing the June 12, 2009, election, the govern-ment dramatically expanded its control over access and content.32

    During the election campaign, supporters o both the incumbent president Mahmoud Ah-madinejad and his most important opponent, Mir-Hussein Mousavi, identied the Internetas a tool that might help the opposition to mobilize support. 33 For a brie period, the Iranian

    elecommunications Ministry blocked access to Facebook, which opposition candidates hadbeen using to communicate with some o their supporters.34 When the election was called inavor o Ahmadinejad, large numbers o people took to the streets to protest, claiming that the

    vote had been xed. Te government responded by arresting perceived leaders and intimidat-ing others through beatings and shootings. Cell phone communications were shut down in

    ehran, and Internet access, while not cut o, appears to have been rendered dicult and slow.Although demonstrations have becomes less requent, the regimes legitimacy has been seri-ously damaged. Despite threats, it has not so ar arrested Mousavi, or Mohammed Khatemi orAli Akbar Rasanjani, two ormer presidents who were perceived as supporting the protestersand the deeated presidential candidate. Tere are clear signs o internal divisions within boththe regime and the religious clerisy.

    Even with the rise o government repression, new media gave Iranians more options orreceiving and communicating inormation. However, this inormation is likely to be limited to

    The stakes are high both

    or analysis and or policy,

    especially as a tentative

    consensus seems to have

    emerged that one o the

    ew things that the United

    States can useully do or

    the Iranian opposition is

    to push or more Internet


    Even with the riseo government

    repression, new media

    gave Iranians more

    options or receiving

    and communicating


  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    major news items and simple organizational inormation (such as the suggestion that protest-ers converge on a particular place at a particular time). More complex inormation is unlikelyto spread beyond the actors who directly consume it. New media likely have a modest directeect on Iranians access to new inormation but a more signicant indirect role. AlthoughIranians surely use the Internet or clandestine access to external media and news sources, they

    can also access them through more traditional means. Satellite dishes, although illegal, arerelatively common, allowing access to BBCs Persian-language service, the Voice o AmericasPersian News Network (VOA Persian), Radio Farda, and other external sources o inorma-tion and entertainment. Te Iranian regime acted switly to prevent oreign journalists andothers whom it suspected o mixed allegiances rom covering protest activities. It also used itscontrol o terrestrial broadcasting to disseminate proregime propaganda about the protests, tothe point that the main Iranian broadcasters credibility was seriously damaged.35 Tis meant adearth o traditional news content that was sympathetic to the perspective o the protesters.

    But this time, both Iranian citizens and satellite television services turned to new media.Journalists in traditional media, or example, ollowed Iranian new media to mine it or inor-mation and ideas that then received wider dissemination. VOA Persian relied extensively on

    homemade video o the protests, which was sent by Iranians to a special account on YouSendItand uploaded to Facebook, Youube, and other online service providers.36 Te BBCs Persian-language service, which enjoys more credibility among Iranians than VOA Persian, also re-lied on content uploaded by its users.37 It would be useul to ollow the ows o inormationthrough networks linking the old and new.

    Many observers clearly see new media as central to the evolution o the opposition aterthe June 2009 election. Indeed, it has become ashionable to argue that leveraging the Internetis the key to nishing the job and allowing the Green Movement to drive the Islamist regimerom power.38 At what level did new media have the greatest impact? And how might they beexpected to aect Iranians in the uture?

    Individual TransormationsTere is ample anecdotal evidence rom participants in the Iranian Green Movement o anappreciation or the Internets role in opening up new possibilities and connections but littlesystematic data about the Internets signicance. o assess whether and how individuals in Iranare being transormed by new media, detailed survey data that tracked change over time, orcompared Internet users to nonusers, would be needed. In the absence o such data, this assess-ment is limited to plausible inerences drawn rom indirect indicators.

    One area o clear impact stems rom the combination o extensive Internet use and per-vasive ltering, which has led some Iranians to cultivate important skills. Tose who wish toaccess orbidden content have had to employ clandestine techniques, including proxy servicessuch as Psiphon and Te Onion Router (or). Since Iran lters culturally sensitive content

    (e.g., movies) as well as political content, more Iranians than just politically active dissidentshave had the incentive to develop these skills. Tere is some evidence that these skills weredeployed ater the election. VOA Persian saw a rapid increase in use o its proxy service in theimmediate atermath o the election, stretching capacity so ar that an unknown number ousers could not access the services.39 or, a well-known relay system or anonymized Internetbrowsing, recorded a substantial increase in the use o its services by Iranians, and a particu-larly large increase in the use o its unlisted bridge relays during this time (see gure 1). Tesignicance o such new competencies is uncertain, however. Individuals already conversant

    New media likely have a

    modestdirect eect on

    Iranians access to new

    inormation but a more

    signifcant indirect role.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets


  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    between these blogs to communication patterns in other new media, let alone to o-line pat-terns o communication and personal exchange. It is dicult to research political aliations onsocial networking services such as Facebook except in a supercial way (e.g., by comparing thesize o groups aliated with the dierent presidential candidates). Tere are no independent

    sources o inormation on instant text messaging. Nonetheless, blogs play an important culturalrole in their own right in Iran.43

    Studying linkage patterns demonstrates quickly that the Iranian blogosphere does notequate to the movement or political reorm, nor indeed map onto a simple oppositionbetween progovernment and antigovernment orces.44 Instead, the Persian-language blogo-sphere is loosely organized around a number o clusters that are largely composed o blog-gers with shared interests (see gure 2). Tese clusters include not only reormists, secularists,and religious conservatives, but also bloggers interested in Iranian poetry, Persian literature,CyberShia religious speculation about the welth Imam, and mixed-topic blogging.

    Te relative size o and relationships among these clusters has changed over time. In thepast at least, conservative and reormist/secular bloggers have paid considerable attention to one

    anotheras measured by outgoing links rom the one to the other45and uture work mightseek to establish whether this is still true. In addition, there have been historical moments whereliterary and political blogs engage in dense discussion with one another.46 Tus, the Iranian blo-gosphere plausibly resembles a genuine online civil society, albeit one with signicant ractures.For example, many religious bloggers appear relatively uninterested in politics, contrary to whatmany Western observers might expect, and their political interests are not easily predictable

    when they do maniest themselves. During the Iran election, moreand more importantCyberShia blogs linked to Mousavis Web site than to Ahmadinejads (see gure 3).

    Figure 2. Network Map of the Iranian Blogosphere at the Time of the 2009 Election

    Source: Morningside Analytics

    Note: Larger dots represent the most linked to sites.

    Studying linkage patterns

    demonstrates quickly that

    the Iranian blogosphere

    does not equate to the

    movement or political

    reorm, nor indeed map

    onto a simple opposition

    between progovernment

    and antigovernment


  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    o the extent that blogs are creating an online civil society in Iran, it seems to be riendlierto reormists than to religious conservatives. During the election period, Mousavis Web siteunsurprisingly received many links rom secular and reormist blogs. More interesting is thatit also received signicant numbers o links rom bloggers interested in literature and po-

    etry rather than politics. Ahmadinejads Web site, in contrast, received ew links rom anyoneother than political conservatives and a couple o reormists more likely interested in criticizingthan agreeing with him (see gure 4). It is important to stress that these relationships cannotbe generalized to the Iranian population at large. However, they do suggest that Mousaviscandidacy interested a broader range o bloggers (including nonpolitical bloggers) than didAhmadinejads. o the extent that the Persian-speaking blogosphere inuences the uture oIranian politics, it is likely to help, not hurt, the reormist cause.

    Te new media movement o today lacks the institutional inrastructure that characterizedreormists in the early Khatemi years. Future research should ocus upon whether the virtualcivil society created by new media can meaningully substitute or one built on ace-to-aceinteraction and concrete organizations. It should also ocus on questions about the impact o

    these relationships on collective identities and views o others in society: do users o new medianow have harsher or more tolerant views o their political adversaries?

    Collective Action

    Most o the attention paid to new media in Iran has ocused on its role in acilitatingcollective action against the Iranian regime, particularly the organization o marches anddemonstrations.47 Te main opposition, the Green Movement, has supported and sus-tained itsel by inormation distribution, argues one typical analysis. Prompt and mass

    Figure 3. Network Map of Linkages within the Iranian Blogosphere to Mousavis Web Site

    Source: Morningside Analytics

    Note: Larger dots represent most linked to sites.

    Future research should

    ocus upon whether the

    virtual civil society createdby new media can

    meaningully substitute

    or one built on ace-

    to-ace interaction and

    concrete organizations.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    communication is vital, given that it is a viral movement made up o many dierent campscollaborating to protest government corruption and authoritarianism.48 New media mayhave helped protesters coordinate and to establish rames to cast the Green Movement in apositive light, expose inormation embarrassing to the regime, and communicate and coordi-nate the goals o the movement at times when ace-to-ace contact was dicult and risky.

    witters impact on the protests was almost certainly extremely modest, despite its promi-

    nence in driving external attention to the conict (see the reports discussion o external at-tention). Tere were probably too ew active witter users in Iran or it to drive any massmobilization. Sysomos reports that there were approximately 8,500 witter users who sel-reported as Iranian in May 2009, and Gaurav Mishra claims that less than 100 o those wereactive during the election period.49 Such numbers pale compared to the hundreds o thousandso Iranians who participated in the protest movement at some point. Te Facebook protest inColombia generates comparable arithmetic: the number o Colombians who had a Facebookaccount was dwared by the apparent size o the demonstrations.50 A similar conclusion can bedrawn about the role o Kenyan blogs in monitoring the violence ater the 2008 Kenyan elec-tion. Te reach o these blogs, relative to traditional media such as radio, was limited.51

    Numbers can be misleading, however. Social movements are oten sparked and shaped by

    small numbers o motivated activists who set an example or the broader public. witter andother new media could have played an indirect role by communicating inormation to andamong elites, who then disseminated it more widely among the general population throughonline and o-line networks. It is dicult to document this, since any new media eects arelikely to have been swamped by other media with wider circulation. For example, Mousaviscall or mass protests on June 25 was not only circulated on witter, but also carried by VOAPersian and the BBCs Persian-language service, which circumvented jamming eorts bybroadcasting rom new satellites.52

    Figure 4. Network Map of Linkages within the Iranian Blogosphere to Ahmadinejads Web Site

    Source: Morningside Analytics

    Twitters impact on the

    protests was almost

    certainly extremely

    modest, despite its

    prominence in driving

    external attention to the


  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    Some groups have described using new media to overcome regime repression and to or-ganize or protests. In Iran, the most useul and exible means o organizing protest was SMStext messaging, especially in a country with a high rate o mobile phone usage. However, theIranian government was entirely aware o the risks o SMS access and shut down the SMSsystem or a two-week period.53 Iranians did have somewhat patchy access to the Internet,

    and media such as Facebook and blogs may have communicated very basic inormation aboutprotest activity to Iranians with Internet access (such as the sites o major rallies). As alreadynoted, their eects are impossible to distinguish rom those o more traditional media (satellite

    V), which was communicating the same inormation.Another way in which new media aected collective action was by acilitating communica-

    tion and coordination or those who could not easily meet ace to ace. New media helped tolink disparate groups and individuals in the absence o ormal organization or eective leader-ship. For instance, Ali Qolizadeh, a ehran University student activist, described the move-ments organization like this: Small groups o 20 or 30 students band together using socialmedia and operate locally, or instance, distributing iers door-to-door in their neighborhoods.. . . It is because o the virtual nature o our organizing activities that the government does

    not have the power to suppress us. It is the key to our success.54

    Such orms o networkedorganization have weaknesses as well as strengths, however. Te absence o clear leadershipor internal control opens up opportunities or the regime to sow divisions among opponents.It also makes it harder to ashion a coherent political message or strategy. Tis happened inColombia, or example. Te Facebook protesters there possessed diverse and not entirely com-patible agendas: opposition to the FARC; opposition to kidnapping; the desire or peace andnegotiations between the FARC and the government; support or lvaro Uribe; and opposi-tion to Hugo Chvez. Notably, the amilies o the remaining hostages chose not to participate,believing the protest to be polarizing.55

    New media also played an interesting and important role in ramingprotest activity.As scholars o social movements have long argued, ramingthe creation o group under-

    standings regarding the meaning and signicance o particular aspects o politicsis otencrucial to collective action.56 Cultural entrepreneurs who dislike the status quo seek to cre-ate rames that will inspire others to protest. For instance, Andrew Sullivan suggested thatan exhortation on witter inspired Iranians to call out God is great rom their rootopsto protest at the regime.57 Tis orm o protest was already part o the Iranian repertoire odissidence, having played an important role in the unrest leading up to the Islamic revolu-tion against the Shah. Tus, witter did not create the idea but perhaps alerted protestersto the potentially resonant rame. Regime sympathizers may also create counterramesthat seek to reconcile citizens to the status quodenouncing protesters as pawns o theUnited States and Israel, or instance, to render them politically toxic within much o Ira-nian society.

    Tus, online content was available both directly and indirectly. While this content wassometimes shakily sourced, it did rame the unrest in ways that avored the protesters anddisavored the regime. Uploaded video depicted large-scale and mostly peaceul demonstra-tions, as well as violence by the regime against protesters. o the extent that this ramingtook hold, it suggested that the demonstrations were an expression o general popular unrest.Politicians who avored the demonstrators were also assiduous in their eorts to suggest thatthe demonstrations were a continuation (and renewal) o the revolution that had toppledthe Shah. Tey also took pains to distance themselves rom the United States, as the Obama

    New media helped to

    link disparate groups and

    individuals in the absence

    o ormal organization or

    eective leadership.

    Framingthe creation

    o group understandingsregarding the meaning

    and signifcance o

    particular aspects o

    politicsis oten crucial

    to collective action.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    administration wisely abstained rom overt advocacy on their behal during the crucial mo-ments when general impressions were ormed and narratives established.

    Tere is little but anecdotes about how this raming was received by Iranians. However, theavailable body o scholarship suggests that it aected those with direct access to these mediaand that it was disseminated urther through existing networks. Satellite television and social

    networking services such as Facebook distributed videos o the killing o one young woman,Neda Agha-Soltan, caught up in the march.58 Research suggests that it is important or pro-testers to signal to the general public that they are like them and not oddballs or anatics.59Agha-Soltan, who appeared to be a quite ordinary (albeit telegenic) young woman who cov-ered her hair in the approved Islamic style, plausibly helped demonstrators argue that ordinaryIranians were organizing the protests (and being killed by the regime), not oreign agitatorsand lackeys whom the regime publicly blamed. Agha-Soltans visibility as a victim may havehelped weaken the regime over the longer term, in ways that would have been less likely had adierent victim o the regime been highlighted in media coverage.

    Future research should ollow up with detailed qualitative and quantitative data gather-ing on the relationship between new technology and social protest movements. Qualitative

    accounts could replace existing (and possibly unrepresentative) anecdotes with specic inor-mation about the extent to which dierent groups used new technologies. Are new mediatypically used by urban elites, or by other segments o the population? How are they used inpractice? Quantitative inormation (both survey polls and nontraditional methods o passiveinormation gathering on individuals online behavior) could help supplement qualitative ac-counts with a broader understanding o the relationship between new media and protest. Arethere dierent adoption rates or dierent technologies? What relationship do new mediaplay with traditional media, and with networks o personalized communication in spreadinginormation? Are protesters more likely to be inspired to political action by traditional mediaor new media? How do text-based media and visual media dier in their consequences orcontentious action?

    Regime Policies

    O course, the protesters were not the only actors seeking to rame the events o June in po-litically congenial ways. Te Iranian regime responded to protesters use o the Internet in anumber o ways.60 First, it has sporadically sought to block access to new media by throttlingInternet access, disrupting SMS text messaging, and targeting and blocking particular Websites where regime opponents are seen as having an advantage. Second, it has tried to create itsown new media strategy by encouraging government sympathizers to blog and use witter andFacebook and other platorms in support o the regimes position. Tird, it has sought to rameits opponents use o the Internet and other media as reecting their domination by oreigninterests. Even i the Internet initially helped the protest movement, it later helped the regime

    crack down on this movement.Evidence suggests that during the immediate period surrounding the election, Internet

    services were disrupted. However, how much this was due to the Iranian government, as op-posed to the combination o limited capacity and a massive surge in Internet use, is not clear.61It is clear, however, that the Iranian censorship regime targeted a wider set o Web sites duringthe period surrounding the election. Roughly hal o the thirty most important antiregimeblogs were inaccessible, as was the popular blogging host site, Bloga.62 Figure 5 shows therequency o posts by Iranian bloggers rom June 7 to June 25, 2009, and suggests that the

    Even i the Internet

    initially helped the protest

    movement, it later helped

    the regime crack down on

    this movement.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    crackdown curtailed blogging or the three days ater the election. However, blogging returnedto preelection levels soon thereater, suggesting that witter was not the only way to get inor-mation rom Iran.

    Social networking sites such as Facebook were also blocked during the election period.Protesters and their supporters sought to evade these controls through both sophisticated(the use o proxy servers) and simple means (e-mail to supporters outside Iran). For example,the man who took the video o Neda Agha-Soltans death did not upload it himsel, insteade-mailing it to a riend who orwarded it to VOA.63 SMS text messaging was made unavail-able shortly beore the election and or some two weeks ater it. Mobile telephones were also

    unusable in the period directly surrounding the election, which may have been intended todisrupt an eort by an organization associated with Rasanjani to monitor polling stationsaround the country.64

    Eorts to disrupt access to the Internet went together with eorts to mobilize regimesupporters via the Internet. Tese eorts seem to have been less successul than the eortso regime opponents. Previous eorts by the Revolutionary Guard to encourage members othe Basij (the regimes volunteer paramilitary militia) to blog may possibly have helped spurthe surge in religious blogging discussed earlier. However, these new religious blogs have beennotably uninterested in politics. Eorts by a dozen conservative bloggers to create Youube

    videos putting out their side o the story appear to have attracted only a small audience. Teregimes postelection eorts to mobilize Iranian Internet users to denounce protesters seem to

    have had little success., a Web site set up by the Revolutionary Guard to allow Irani-ans to identiy protesters rom photographs (hence acilitating their arrest), has generated littleinterest, including rom conservative bloggers. Even proregime conservatives may be unwillingto identiy themselves with the regimes internal security apparatus, given controversies overthe beatings, torture, and possibly rape and murder o detained protesters. Proregime actorshave tried to organize themselves on witter and other social media in the wake o the protests,both to spread disruptive rumors and to communicate a proregime message.65Tis could makeit more dicult or protesters to use these tools in the uture, although the threat that online





    Number of Posts

    June 7


    June 21

    Figure 5. Frequency of Posts by Iranian Bloggers, June 725, 2009

    Source: Authors data

    Eorts to disrupt access

    to the Internet went

    together with eorts

    to mobilize regime

    supporters via the

    Internet. These eorts

    seem to have been lesssuccessul than the eorts

    o regime opponents.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    evidence may be used to identiy and arrest dissidents provides a more direct disincentive touture public online activity.

    Finally, the regime has sought to rame dissidents use o technology by suggesting thatthey are subservient to oreign interests. Early commentary suggested that Mousavi was ol-lowing a deceptive campaign strategy, which was a mixture o Obamas model in 2008 and

    some deceptions and lies o the colored revolutions.


    Te request o a U.S. State Departmentocial that witter postpone a temporary shutdown o its service has been depicted in Iranianmedia as evidence o a witter plot by Secretary o State Hillary Clinton to undermine theIranian revolution.67 Tis raises an important question about blowback or policymakers, giventhat American policymakers and pundits oten retell this story as a way o trumpeting theirsuccessul role in the Green Revolution. Similarly, Iranian state-inuenced media depicted anIsraeli newspapers use o material rom antiregime witterers as evidence that the unrest wasbacked by an Israeli conspiracy.68 More recently, the government has sought to use its oppo-nents reliance on publicly available social networking sites against them in mass trials, and toindict witter and Youube as part o a massive global conspiracy against the Islamic Revolu-tion.69 As with the rames o protesters and their allies, we do not know how these rames have

    been received by the Iranian public.Future research could examine more rigorously how regimes use o new media has changedover time. Incumbent regimes adapt in response to the experience o other regimes, but thelimits to learning are not known. Nor is it known whether learning occurs through passiveobservation or active inormation sharing. Current work by researchers at the Berkman Cen-ter or Internet and Society and the University o oronto has done much to establish basiccomparative inormation on governments Internet-censorship regimes. However, relativelylittle is known about patterns o dissemination over time, about active use o new media byauthoritarian governments, or about how non-Internet media (cell-phone text messaging) areused and censored by incumbent regimes.

    Here, automated data collection can supplement existing inormation on censorship

    regimes with new inormation on active use o the Internet to disseminate inormationand propaganda by existing regimes. Web-scraping technologies can gather large amountso inormation rom ocial and unocial newspapers, government Web sites, sites runby individual or collective actors linked to the regime, and sympathizers in the popula-tion. Meme tracking can establish the circumstances under which incumbent propagandabecomes more widely disseminated among government and nongovernment sites. Ex-traordinarily little is known about how incumbent regimes use the Internet actively, eventhough this is becoming ever more important. Gathering data would allow the mapping orelevant relationships, and, over time, test causal arguments about the kinds o tacticsadopted by governments, the take-up o government arguments in new media more gener-ally, and so on.

    External Actors

    Where witter and other new media clearly did matter is in how they conveyed inormationabout the protests to the outside world. raditional media were at a disadvantage in coveringevents inside Iran because o restrictions placed on journalists, and thus ended up relying onnew media or content. Hence, the outside worlds perceptions o the protests were cruciallyshaped by witter (as conveyed through blogs and other means), amateur videos uploaded to

    Youube and Facebook, and other sources. Tis intense ocus on Iran cannot necessarily be

    Extraordinarily little

    is known about how

    incumbent regimes use

    the Internet actively, even

    though this is becoming

    ever more important.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    replicated in other cases, however, as external attention tends to converge on some issues andnot others or reasons demanding urther research.

    o show how new media helped to ocus attention on Iran, the authors o this study drewon the Media Cloud platorm to examine stories that ocused on Iran in U.S. political blogsand proessional media outlets rom May 10 to July 10, 2009. For the purposes o comparison,the authors also examined stories that ocused on two other major conicts, Sri Lanka andDarur, as well as a major media event, the death o Michael Jackson.

    Figure 6 presents the number o sentences devoted to each o these our storieswith

    separate plots or the newspapers and blogs that Media Cloud currently monitors. Newspapersand blogs should not be compared directly in terms o the total volume o coverage; rather, it isthe patterns o coverage in each that are o interest. In both American newspapers and blogs inlate June, the Iranian elections were prominently covered. Similarly, another monitoring eort,that o the Project or Excellence in Journalism, ound that the Iranian protests occupied 28percent o the news hole in its sampled set o media in the week ending June 24, outpacing allother stories.

    Interest in the Iranian protests may have peaked in the blogosphere beore peaking innewspapers. Blog interest peaks on June 6, with 463 sentence mentions. A second blogospherepeak appears on July 2,but more than hal the blog sentence reerences that day come romAndrew Sullivans Daily Dish. Tis second peak appears to be less connected to outside events

    and more connected to Sullivan and teams enthusiasm on that day. However, both blog andnewspaper interest in the Iran story drops sharply ater Michael Jacksons death was announcedon June 25. Tis is an important, i disheartening, reminder that both new and old media alikecan be distracted rom geopolitics when celebrities shufe o this mortal coil.

    Media Cloud also captures the content o the indexed sentences by analyzing word re-quency. Te algorithms discard the most common words and count the appearance o re-maining words, comparing the requencies across sources and groups o sources. Figure 7shows the terms most closely associated with stories about Iran ound in the system during



    Sri Lanka

    Michael Jackson






    Number of


    May 10 June 1 July 1




    Sri LankaMichael Jackson







    Number of


    May 10 June 1 July 1


    Figure 6. Newspaper and Blog Coverage of the Iranian Election, Michael Jacksons Death,

    Sri Lanka, and Darfur

    Source: Media Cloud

    Both new and old media

    alike can be distracted

    rom geopolitics when

    celebrities shue o this

    mortal coil.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    the two months o analysis. Perhaps surprisingly, the term Mousavi appears ar less re-quently than does Ahmadinejad. Tis suggests that, despite the attention devoted to theprotests themselves, the incumbent remained a more visible gure in news coverage than didthe challenger.

    Although Media Cloud does not include data rom witter, the exploratory techniquesoutlined here work well with witter data. Gilad Lotan o Microsot Research collected a seto 269,000 witter messages (tweets) associated with the Iranian elections between June 12and June 30. Analyzing three 5,000-message chunks sampled rom Lotans setrom thebeginning, middle, and end o this periodsuggests how the dialogue on witter changedover the course o two weeks. Figure 8 presents the number o tweets or popular phrasesduring each period. Some phrases were common in all periodsor example, the obviousiranelection and the witter abbreviation rt (or re-tweet, or pass along a message). Othersappeared mainly in one period. A major topic ater the election is CNNail, a term appliedby witter users to CNNs ailure to cover the Iranian elections with live reporters on the dayo balloting. By the middle o this period, a peak day or Iran-ocused witter activity, discus-

    sion had shited to rallies and discussions o recounts. In the last period, Neda (Agha-Soltan)emerges as the th most popular term.

    Accurately identiying the content o new media is only part o the story, o course. Whato its eects? Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink suggest how activists living under an op-pressive regime can leverage the support o actors abroad.70 Tey argue that when the regimeis unresponsive to activists, these activists may seek support rom actors in other states, which

    will then bring pressure on the original regime in a boomerang eect. Te key conditionsthat allow this to work are transnational networks o activists, states other than the existingregime that are responsive to these activists, and tools that these states can use to pressurethe existing regime. Activists attempted to ollow this model, or instance, with the creationo the United or Iran network that organized solidarity protests across the United States

    through Facebook.71Te Iranian election suggests that new media can partially substitute or activist net-

    works. Tey allow communication to take place across borders, and orms o internationalsolidarity to spring up relatively quickly. Although blogs and other media ocused on Iranonly or a short period o time, they engaged in solidaristic action. Te Obama administra-tion appeared partially receptive to this message. While the administration was careul notto express overt support or the demonstrators, which could have been used by the Iranianregime to delegitimize protests, it did signal its sympathies implicitly, by, or example, asking

    Figure 7. Word Cloud of the Terms that Appear in Stories about Iran,

    May 10July 10, 2009

    Note: Word size represents the relative frequency of appearance, with the largest words appearing instories most frequently.

    Source: Media Cloud

    The Iranian election

    suggests that new media

    can partially substitute or

    activist networks.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    a blogger/journalist who had been highly active in covering the protests, Nico Pitney o theHungton Post, to ask a question on behal o the protesters.

    However, the administration could exert little pressure on the Iranian regime. Its inu-ence was limited by the history o hostile relations between the two countries, a lack o useulcontemporary relationships (commercial relations between the two countries being practicallynonexistent because o existing sanctions and restrictions), and complications arising rom theongoing indirect negotiations over nuclear technologies. Te United States provided mostlysymbolic assistance (e.g., asking witter not to temporarily shut down or maintenance). Othercountries were either in much the same position as the United States or disinclined to supportprotesters against an existing regime.

    Tus, there was little prospect o any short-term boomerang eect. Nor are there manyother obvious causal pathways through which outside inuence could have had signicantinternal consequences. It is likely, as discussed earlier, that externally based media (satellite tele-

    vision and perhaps some Internet sources) that rebroadcast directly into Iran helped protesterscoordinate and demonstrate that the protests had signicant support. However, this is perhapsbetter regarded as outside actors helping internal actors indirectly to connect with wider audi-ences, rather than outside inuence as such. Expressions o international solidarity may haveaected the attitudes o protesters inside Iran, but any eort to assess these attitudes would beat best highly speculative.

    Future research should provide a more rigorous account o the circumstances under whichexternal action can have internal consequences. By combining data scraped rom domestic andexternal media, it could examine the circumstances under which inormation and memes dis-seminate rom one to the other, the key interlocutors, possible distortions or changes in howinormation is contextualized in both, and so on. By combining this data with external datasources (on, or example, patterns o unding and internal and external collective action), onecould tentatively uncover causal relationships (i any) between online communication acrossborders and actual political outcomes.

    0 2,000 4,000Number of Tweets






















    0 2,000 4,000Number of Tweets






















    0 2,000 4,000Number of Tweets






















    Figure 8. Number of Tweets Citing Each Term ( June 1230, 2009)

    Source: Gilad Lotan, Microsoft Research

    It is likely . . . that

    externally based media

    (satellite television and

    perhaps some Internet

    sources) that rebroadcast

    directly into Iran helped

    protesters coordinate

    and demonstrate that the

    protests had signifcant


  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    Conclusions and Further Directions

    Conventional wisdom oten assumes the world is like a Hollywood movie, in which bad guyswith all the tools o oppression at their disposal can be brought down by a band o plucky citi-zens armed with little more than cell phones and witter accounts. In the real world, dictatorialregimes are not nearly as vulnerable, citizens not nearly as organized, and new media not nearly

    as powerul as these narratives assume. Regimes, such as those in Iran and China, have vast re-sources o repression with which to control their populations and the media, old and new. Realrevolution is usually slow to come, i at all. A year ater the witter revolution, Ahmadinejadis still in power, although his regime has lost considerable legitimacy. Similarly, conventional

    wisdom oten paints too rosy a picture o the role o new media in contentious politics, assum-ing it to be an agent o democracy and peace. In act, social networking and other new mediatechnologies can just as easily be used to radicalize, exclude, and enrage.

    Policymakers have an especially tricky tightrope to walk, as evidenced by the reactionsto Clintons One Internet speech. Both the Iranian and Chinese governments used it as apretext or rallying their media and citizens against perceived American hegemony. Tere arediplomatic and strategic ramications to how policymakers talk about the role o new media in

    challenging authoritarian regimes. More troubling is the potential moral hazard: such rhetoricmay lead regime opponents to believe that the international community will protect and sup-port them with more than words and green Facebook pages. Ultimately, as Clinton implicitlysuggested in her address, more and better study o new medias role in contested political ac-tion is needed to make good policy. As this report has argued, these uture studies need to becross-cultural, theoretically grounded, empirically varied and sophisticated, and perhaps mostimportantly open-minded about technologys strengths and weaknesses.

    What specic recommendations emerge rom present ndings?

    Be skeptical of sweeping claims about the democratizing power of new media .Although new media can plausibly shape contentious politics, they are only one among a

    number o important political actors. As this report demonstrates, there remain massivegaps in our knowledge about their eects at multiple levels and the interaction amongthose levels. he suggestions or improved research design and data in this report are notsimply the methodological complaint o academics. I policymakers hope to act eec-tively, they need to get the causal mechanisms right or else risk wasting eort andresources on ineective actionsor even making things worse

    Acknowledge the good and bad effects of new media . Opening up the Internet may notbe a panacea. While a ree media may improve the prospects or collective action, theeects on intergroup relations may be more troubling. As the genocide in Rwandaillustrated, traditional media can be used to mobilize and organize ethnic con lict, lead-ing to mass violenceand there is no reason to assume that new media will pay attention

    i it does, or that such attention will lead to international intervention. New media maybe more likely to promote polarization and to provide targeted communication channelsor already polarized groups than do traditional orms o broadcasting and mass media.I the United States and other democratic countries want to construct new media plat-orms, they can adopt one o three broad approaches. First, they can limit use o theplatorm to groups that are unlikely to oment conlict or violence. his makes it lesslikely that the platorm will have harmul consequences, but also less likely that theplatorm will succeed. Second, they can seek to engineer platorms so as to encourage

    Policymakers have an

    especially tricky tightrope

    to walk, as evidenced by

    the reactions to ClintonsOne Internet speech.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    exchange rather than polarization between dierent groups. hird, they can provideully open platorms, mindul o the possible risks associated with them. But each othese approaches is problematic in its own way.Beware of backlash . Although the sentiment behind the push or Internet reedom isadmirable, eorts to help antiauthoritarian movements by providing access to new media

    platorms may have unintended consequences. Regimes remain well inanced and eec-tive in their determined eorts to hold on to power, and usually ind ways to adjust tonew challenges to their control. In uture situations o unrest, despotic governments willlikely do a better job o disseminating disinormation and using it to discredit nontradi-tional channels o communication. he United States needs to careully balance itseorts to promote such reedoms with the risk o a backlash discrediting the activists ithopes to support.Do not mistake information for influence . Absent a boomerang eect eedback loop,or some other meaningul mechanism, inormation dissemination to the outside world isinsuicient to eect signiicant domestic change. Providing inormation and content vianew media to the outside world can generate sympathy and support, and can also allow

    this content to be rebroadcast to the country in question. However, unless the outsideworld can generate real pressure on the regime, or otherwise be helpul, this is unlikelyto do more than provide a modest eeling o solidarity. Activists should recognize theselimits and work, or example, with less sexy but more robust orms o communication andorganization such as wall posterswhile leveraging the advantages that new media cansometimes present.

    It is important to nd a proper balance between knee-jerk skepticism o technologyspromise and the techno-utopianism that too oten plagues public discourse. As a rst step, thisreport has outlined the research problem, constructed a ramework or urther analysis, anddiscussed important new sources o data or that analysis. Te next step, the authors believe,is to develop these data sources as part o a rigorously designed research program. Tis wouldgenerate useul knowledge or academics and policymakers alike about how new media doesand could aect contentious politics.

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    Notes1. Mark Peile, A Nobel Peace Prize or witter? Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 2009, www.csmonitor.

    com/2009/0706/p09s02-coop.hmtl.2. Respekt: Police Fail to Protect Victims o Neo-Nazi hreats, Prague Daily Monitor, September 15, 2009,; Joe Powell,Amid Censorship and hreats Ugandans urn to New Media, Independent, September 23, 2009,; Josh Goldstein and Juliana Rotich, Digitally Networked Technology in Kenyas

    20072008 Post-Election Crisis, Internet and Democracy Case Study Series (Cambridge, MA: BerkmanCenter or Internet and Society, Harvard University, September 29, 2008),

    3. Cass Sunstein, Neither Hayek nor Habermas, Public Choice 134, no. (2008): 8795; Michael Gerson,Banish the Cyber-Bigots, Washington Post, September 25, 2009, For a data-driven discussion, see Eric Lawrence,Henry Farrell, and John Sides, Sel-Segregation or Deliberation? Blog Readership, Participation, andPolarization in American Politics, Perspectives on Politics 8, no. 1 (2010): 141157. For an alternative per-spective, see Yochai Benkler and Aaron Shaw, A Tale o Two Blogospheres: Discursive Practices on the Let andRight(Cambridge, MA: Berkman Center or Internet and Society, Harvard University, 2010).

    4. We use contentious politics as a shorthand or actions by individuals, groups, and regimes that typicallyentail contestation over political means or ends.

    5. For more on this, see igure 6 o this report.

    6. Joshua A. Keating, Lost in #Haiti: How Haiti s Disaster Showed witters Limits as a News Medium, , January 22, 2010, James K. Glassman and Michael S. Doran, he Sot Power Solution in Iran, Wall Street Journal, January

    21, 2010,;Mehdi Khalaji and Scott C. Carpenter, America and the Iran Political Reorm Movement: First Do NoHarm, testimony beore House Committee on Foreign Aairs Subcommittee on the Middle East andSouth Asia, February 3, 2010,

    8. New media is an admittedly unsatisying term that encompasses a diverse array o outlets, such as blogs,social media (e.g., Facebook), audiovisual hosting services (e.g., Youube), text messaging (SMS), witter,e-mail, and chat rooms. While any nomenclature can be challenged, the term new media is a convenientshorthand or various primarily Internet-based communication technologies and methods that most peoplecan readily dierentiate rom old media. New media general ly involve user-generated content, interactiv-ity, and dissemination through networks, but new media dier in their characteristics and potential politicalconsequences. Indeed, perhaps the most important moments involve inormation that appears on multipleplatorms.

    9. In part, this involves simply limiting or preventing the use o new media. his also involves the proactivemobilization o new media technologies. For example, Israel s government has enlisted an army o bloggersto deend its policies online; China has done the same with its 50 Cent Army; and Nigeria has sought torecruit bloggers to deend the government online (see Umaru Yaradua Regime Launches $5 MillionOnline War, Sahara Reporters, June 16, 2009,

    10. Evgeny Morozov, How Dictators Watch Us on the Web, Prospect, November 18, 2009,

    11. Lawrence, Farrell, and Sides, Sel-Segregation or Deliberation.12. Jure Leskovec, Lars Backstrom, and Jon Kleinberg, Meme-racking and the Dynamics o the News Cycle

    (unpublished paper, Cornell University, 2009).13. Dale Eickelman, New Media in the Arab Middle East and the Emergence o Open Societies, inRemaking

    Muslim Politics, ed. Robert Hener (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006); Jon Anderson, NewMedia, New Politics: Reconiguring the Public Sphere o Islam, Social Research 70, no. 5 (Fall 2003):

    887906.14. Sharon Otterman, Publicizing the Private: Egyptian Women Bloggers Speak Out,Arab Media & Society1 (Spring 2007),

    15. Evgeny Morozov, he Brave New World o Slacktivism,, May 19, 2007,; Samantha Shapiro, Revolution,Facebook-Style, New York Times Magazine, January 2009,; David Faris, Revolutions without Revolutionaries? Network heory,Facebook, and the Egyptian Blogosphere, Arab Media & Society 6 (Fall 2008),; Bikya Masr, Stop, Look, Whats that Sound. . .the Death o Egyptian Activism,BikyaMasr, February 8, 2009, For instance, the creators o a Facebook Save the Children o

  • 8/3/2019 Blogs and Bullets




    Arica application attracted 1.3 million members, who collectively donated just over six thousand dollars.In Egypt, mil lions signed up or Facebook groups protesting government politics, but only a handul actuallyshowed up in the streets to protest. Indeed, many Egyptian activists believe that cheap Internet solidarityactually harmed the protest movement, as would-be protesters stayed home and blogged.

    16. Evan Kohlmann, he Real Online errorist hreat, Foreign Aairs 85, no. 5 (September/October 2006) :115124; Marc Sageman, Leaderless Jihad(Chapel Hill, NC: University o North Carolina Press, 2008).

    17. Cass Sunstein, he Law o Group Polarization, in Debating Deliberative Democracy, ed. James Fishkin and

    Peter Laslett, 80137 (New York: Oxord University Press, 2003).18. Doug McAdam, Sidney arrow, and Charles illy, Dynamics o Contention (New York: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2001).

    19. Benkler and Shaw,A Tale o Two Blogospheres.20. Morozov, How Dictators Watch Us on the Web.21. Steven Heydemann, Upgrading Authoritarianism in the Arab World, Analysis Paper no. 13 (Washington, DC:

    Brookings Institution, October 2007). Kevin Donovan, witter post, August 23, 2009, Ethan Zuckerman, Meet the Bridgebloggers,Public Choice134 (2008): 4765; Marc Lynch, Blogging the

    New Arab Public,Arab Media & Society 1 (Spring 2007), Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink,Activists Beyond Borders (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998).25. Jennier Brinkenho, Digital Diasporas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Cliord Bob, The

    Marketing o Rebellion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).26. Steven Muson, Chinese Government Sharply Criticizes Clintons Speech Urging Internet Freedom,

    Washington Post, January 23, 2010,; Evgeny Morozov, Is Hillary ClintonLaunching a Cyber Cold War? , January 21, 2010,

    27. Glassman and Doran, he Sot Power Solution in Iran; Nicholas Kristo, ear Down his Cyberwall!New York Times, June 17, 2009; National Iranian American Council, NIAC Urges Swit Action on InternetFreedom,, March 2, 2010,

    28. International elecommunications Union, Measuring the Inormation Society: The ICT Development Index(Geneva: International elecommunications Union, 2009). Cell phone use has grown even more rapidly overthe same period, rom 3.4 percent to 41.8 percent.

    29. Geneive Abdo and Jonathan Lyons, Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in 21stCentury Iran (NewYork: Henry Holt, 2003); Ase Bayat,Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn(Stanord: Stanord University Press, 2007).

    30. See Richard Weitz, Irans Grassroot Voices and the Blogosphere, Eurasia Review, April 14, 2010, Ronald Deibert, John G. Palrey, Raal, Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain,Access Denied: The Practice and

    Policy o Global Internet Filtering(Cambridge: MI Press, 2008).32. John Kelly and Bruce Etling, Mapping Irans Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian

    Blogosphere, Internet and Democracy Case Study Series (Cambridge, MA: Berkman Center ResearchPublication, Harvard University, April 2008); Nasrin Alavi, We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs (New York: SotSkull Press, 2005).

    33. Ali Eran, Reormist Musavis Poll Strategy Backed by West, BBC-Iran Analyst, BBC WorldwideMonitoring, Jul