January 2, 2010

Iranian Activist Fights With Top Social Media Tool Of The Decade

December 27th, 2009 by Ron Callari

A recent Mashable report couldn't have been more on target when it recognized YouTube as the top social media innovation of the decade. That social media tool in the able of hands of Mohsen Sazegara, an opposition activist is being used as a military resource to rebel against Iranian tyranny that has swept the land since the disputed presidential elections held back in June. Like David versus Goliath, this is a classic tale of choosing the right weaponry.

According to Christina Lamb in a TimesOnline report, Sazegara "tells people to boycott goods manufactured by factories belonging to the Revolutionary Guard and to hoard small change to make daily transactions impossible. They arrange to plug in kettles, irons and hairdryers simultaneously to try to crash the power grid. He also suggests so-called “white strikes” where workers go to factories but do nothing. The objective is to paralyse the government,” he said.

Some of Sazegara's tactics are having an impact. When Iranian sports fans turned up at football matches wearing green, the state television resorted to broadcasting in black and white. He also encouraged activists to reach out to the Revolutionary Guard troops after there were signs that they were not happy. Rebels continue to carry placards with “Army join the nation” to attract more defectors.

Sometimes Sazegara shows films or PowerPoint presentations to demonstrate a point: “I showed a supporter being beaten after he had been left by other activists and told them if his friends had gone back and surrounded him, it would have been impossible for the basiji.”

Shahab, his 25-year-old son, downloads the daily messages onto YouTube and Facebook and to key email addresses. They estimate they reach an audience of half a million. Unfortunately all of these videos are spoken in Farsi so they have not had wide distribution with American audiences to gain additional Western support.

In Iran, however, the government sees how effective these maneuvers are in appealing to the swelling numbers of protesters. To impede Sazegara's videos reaching the rebels, the Iranian regime has slowed Internet speeds so accessing an email account can take half an hour. It blocks access to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and has set up monitoring centres in the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guard to track political dissent.

Social media has certainly made its mark on the first decade of the 21st Century. Barriers like the Cold War or even the Berlin Wall can no longer keep dissidents at bay. Hopefully YouTube in the trusted hands of Sazegara will motivate not only protesters but diplomats and national leaders to take heed and assist in remedying this unrest. According to Sazegara, he admits that "it won't break yet the neck of the regime as the Muharram demonstrations 31 years ago did with the Shah regime...but it will clearly demonstrate to the Iranian and world community the illegitimacy of the regime and the fact that they want a change."

One can only hope that Sazegara's YouTube aim hits his target as effectively as his biblical counterpart David's slingshot did when he was presented with insurmountable odds.

Ron Callari
Society and Trends Writer