Farid Hashemi's latest "status update" on his
Facebook page says a lot about his state
of mind. "It's better to be born as a dog in a democracy than to be a human in a
dictatorship," he writes. Twenty-eight-year-old Hashemi is a senior member of
Iran's largest pro-reform student group, Daftar Tahkim Vahdat, which is a
regular target of pressure from the state.
He is also one of the thousands of Iranians who use Facebook to stay in touch with friends, share photos, and exchange views and information.
Hashemi uses a picture of eight detained university students as his Facebook profile picture.
Iranian authorities blocked the popular social networking site in 2006 as "illegal."
But in February, officials in Tehran took the surprising step of unblocking Facebook. Since then, the site's Iranian membership has been growing fast. Facebook is now the 10th most popular website in Iran.
New Avenues Of Discussion
Hashemi admits to being puzzled by the sudden reversal, which was accompanied by the unblocking of the YouTube video-sharing site. He says it is sometimes difficult to understand the reasoning behind actions by Iran's decision makers.
Yet he's happy about the move. Now, he says, the main challenge is to avoid becoming "addicted" to Facebook, which he says has opened new avenues for discussion of human rights and other political passions.
"Given the fact that I'm a political and social activist, I'm also attracted to human rights issues when I'm on Facebook," Hashemi says. "I join causes that support human rights and democracy, or those that protest against human rights violations in Iran."
|""During election periods, as in the case of Iran, it allows the government to give the impression that it is offering more freedom. But that's absolutely not what's happening..."|
Tehran's change of heart on Facebook is a bright
spot in an otherwise grim new-media landscape. Iran remains one of the world's
harshest censors of the Internet, blocking millions of websites with sexual,
political, or news-related content. Reporters Without Borders says Iran leads
the Middle East in Internet repression and is one of 12 countries classified as
an "Internet enemy."
Iranian officials have offered no explanation for why they decided to restore access to Facebook -- or why they moved to block it in the first place.
Christophe Ginisty is the president of the French group Internet Without Borders, which promotes freedom of expression online. He says some governments with a history of Internet censorship choose to open some sites not to improve their image, but to gain a surreptitious toehold in an online community frequented by political opponents and activists.
"During election periods, as in the case of Iran, it allows the government to give the impression that it is offering more freedom," Ginisty says. "But that's absolutely not what's happening, because the first thing that happens following an opening is that filters and controls are established. It means that they reopen Facebook when they have the possibility to put people in place who can control it."
had posted a poll asking, 'What words would you use to describe Iran?' There
were about 150, 160 answers [within a day]," Nabavi says. "Another question was,
'Why do you leave Iran, and why do you return?' It is important for us to
understand that it's not just my view that counts. The view of the person who
has left Iran and doesn't want to return is important, but so is the view of the
person who has stayed in Iran and is trying hard, despite all the difficulties,
to transform his country into a free society."
Iranians who use Facebook have created several political groups, including one that appears to support former President Mohammad Khatami for the June presidential vote, as well as one that is calling the election a "farce."
There are also groups calling for the release of political prisoners, and groups supporting the women's movement in Iran.
In Tehran, Hashemi, the student activist -- who uses for his Facebook profile picture a photo of eight detained students from Amir Kabir University -- believes that in the short term, such outspoken Facebook debates are not likely to have any effect.
"It's more aimed at showing dissatisfaction. It comes from a feeling of helplessness and anger. It doesn't really have a concrete goal or a reachable goal," he says. "We use any opportunity to show that we are protesting against certain behaviors. It remains to be seen whether a potential movement would be possible through Facebook."
... Payvand News - 03/14/09 ... --