Two years after the protest movement erupted in Iran, the Internet plays not only a vital role for circulating information, but also in stimulating internal democratization within opposition movements through checks and balances.
It appears that the biggest demon facing dissenters in Iran is not filtering, but aging and a lack of creativity.
Sensitivity to online reactions
There are numerous examples of opposition leaders being challenged and confronted via the Internet, and then offering corrections or revisions to their public positions.
A few weeks before the 2009 Iranian election, former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, appealed for national reconciliation before an audience of the Iran-Iraq War veterans. He invited citizens and the Supreme Leader to forgive each other, and this provoked a strong reaction on the Internet, from both friends and foes.
Immediately, a Facebook page was launched with the ironic title “Public apology from the Leader [Ayatollah Khomeini]” and a wave of criticism against Khatami’s declaration flooded the page.
He eventually met demands to revise his statement on the occasion of the election in June. He retracted his reconciliation bid and instead urged for people's rights to be recognized.
These types of retreats are not uncommon among reformists.
In a June 2010, television interview about the Green Movement’s positions on Israel and Palestine, influential reformist cleric, Mohsen Kadivar, implied that protesters supported the regime's stance on Gaza and Lebanon, stating that the protesters had chanted both “Gaza and Lebanon!” and “Sacrifice my life for Iran!”
A wave of online videos challenged that notion by showing that the protesters had actually said the opposite: “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life only for Iran!” Kadivar responded to claims he was lying, by quickly retreating from his position saying that of course, some youth chanted such slogans; but that he does not approve of them.
“Neither Gaza nor Lebanon” eventually found an echo among Syrian protesters, who chanted “Neither Iran nor Hezbollah” in a similar way.
The bitter reality is that while the protest movement used social networking and citizen media in a significant way in 2009 during the hot days of protest, at present, Iranian cyber activists are simply recycling the same virtual environment without any innovation.
For the past few years, Iranian cyber activists have used Western sites such as Facebook, YouTube, WordPress, and other blogging tools with enthusiasm and intelligence. They have also created their own platforms such as Balatarin, which is reminiscent of Digg, and Gooya, which predates blogging and was born as a kind of political yellow pages, expanding into news gathering and political discussions.
What have we invented or imitated successfully since the 2009 days of protest that has attracted the gaze of the world and the media? Nothing.
I think that not only does our Internet interaction repeat itself, but the whole movement has lost the creativity of its early days on the Internet. Looking at the past few days’ tips on the net is like revisiting 2009: Write slogans on bank notes; chant ‘Allaho Akbar’ on the rooftops.
One of the reasons for this could be the mass arrest of many of Iranian activists during the last two years.
The brain drain
Another problem is that the cyber world is a kind of fragmented planet that needs a kind of glue to put the cyber-activists and the geeks back together. The glue can be real or virtual, but should be done by Iranians for Iranians.
Fairytale? Maybe. But hope can go beyond our boundaries. It is why Greens remember the second anniversary despite all the pain.