Title

Notre Dame researchers challenge role of social media in Iran

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Summer 12-5-2012

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia

Publication Place

Fremantle

Abstract

In the wake of Iran's 2009 Presidential elections, optimism about the emancipating nature of social media was overstated, according to a research collaboration at The University of Notre Dame Australia's Fremantle Campus.

Honours student, Jarrad Goold, collaborated with Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations and his honours supervisor, Dr Daniel Baldino, on the research paper titled - 'Iran and the Emergence of Information Communication Technology: The Evolution of Revolution?'

The paper focused on four forms of social media – blogs, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook – and how they were used by protestors as a de facto form of voice in the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian presidential election.

It also highlighted the capacity of governments and political parties in countries with limited freedom of press to cleverly use social media to promote their own doctrine while tracking and ultimately silencing dissidents.

According to the report, 'Using social media to gauge Iranian public opinion and mood after the 2009 election', published by the RAND Corporation, more than two million Tweets with the hash tag #IranElection were posted by protestors and other social media users.

Mr Goold said that while social media had the capability of being an influential commentary tool, a vast majority of these Tweets were sent from outside Iran, providing very little, if any, assistance to the few protestors inside the country who were using Twitter.

What started out as an honours thesis for Mr Goold evolved into a more comprehensive research paper which is set to be published in the Australian Journal of International Affairs – one of the most influential international relations journals - in the coming months.

"My research investigated the claim that social media empowered the oppressed to overthrow authoritarian regimes. This claim was reflected largely through the western media, which stated Iran was being democratised thanks to a 'Twitter revolution'," Mr Goold said.

"However, what the research showed was that this wave of cyber optimism was misplaced, because the regime had exactly the same access to social media as the protestors.

"The Iranian Government can just as effectively use this technology because they have the resources to be able to monitor those mediums on a broad scale and effectively use them to track protestors, censor information and proliferate their own propaganda."

Mr Goold said that the Iranian Government's ability to censor and track protestors using social media was due to the technical know-how of the ruling conservatives.

"Iran has historically embraced technology. One of the principles of the 1979 revolution was to find the nexus between Islam and technology," Mr Goold said.

"Even so, it was surprising to find out how effectively the Iranian regime has been able to construct a centralised censorship network and effectively use this to oppress protestors and further their own ends."

Dr Baldino said collaboration was the key to research, and believed scholarly activity played a large role in the creation of new knowledge.

"There is growing recognition that if we want students to be strong researchers and critical thinkers, academic staff need to act as positive role models," Dr Baldino said.

"At the same time, the benefit of working alongside students allows academics to mentor and encourage best-practice while augmenting independent thinking.

"The experience of working collaboratively with Jarrad definitely increased our motivation to learn more about the mechanics and impact of new social media in Iran."

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