With less than two weeks until Iranians head to the polls, access to news and opinion has become an issue for voters, especially those hoping to go online.
Four years ago when the election results were announced in Iran, the world of social media was abuzz, with cell phone video pouring out of the country – the reformist Green Movement showing its discontent over what it saw as a fraudulent win by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But in many ways, since then, social media activity has flatlined.
Geneive Abdo at the Washington-based Stimson Center said don’t expect that to change.
“The Green movement has been crushed for the most part and people just don’t have that much of an appetite for protesting anymore,” Abdo stated.
Abdo said the reason is an aggressive regime as good as any in the world at cracking down on messengers it does not like.
“They started very sophisticated technology to filter the Internet, to intercept emails, this sort of thing. That’s how they arrested a lot of people,” explained Abdo. “Because they could identify them very easily. But in recent weeks, the Internet in Iran has become so slow one newspaper lamented “The Internet is in a coma.”
That has left many Iranians – and the candidates themselves – dependent on state-run media. Yet even there, authorities have not been afraid to intervene.
Mohammad Reza Aref, a former vice president seen by some as the leading reformist candidate, had part of his appearance cut off.
Mohsen Rezaei, a former Revolutionary Guards commander, complained parts of his first campaign-related interview had been censored.
Rezaei’s campaign later used its own website to show what it claimed to be the cut-out video.
Other candidates are also finding ways to venture online, including the likely frontrunner, chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, who has his own Twitter feed.
Still, the international concern is so great that the United States is relaxing sanctions on Iran to allow American companies to sell mobile phones – such as Apple’s iPhone – software and other technology in hopes of helping Iranians skirt the censors.