Reliable Security Information

Iran Under Pressure

National leadership in Iran continues to make national headlines here. According to the Voice of America, "Iranian media report that Iran's supreme leader told President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to has dismiss his chosen top deputy, after the selection angered conservative Iranians." In addition to ongoing political disputes and protests in the country, on her visit last week to Asia secretary Clinton warned the United States would consider a "defense umbrella" to deter Iran.

Much of the recent turmoil over Iran's domestic and foreign policies stem from the protests erupting in the wake of recent presidential elections. A recent Heritage Foundation research paper, "All a Twitter: How Social Networking Shaped Iran's Election Protests" explores the origins and significance of these events. In addition, to examining the role social networking played in the protests as well as the Iranian government's effort to suppress them, this research study looks at the implications for the US capacity to harness the power of these online tools.

Among the findings of the report are: (1) Geography Matters. It is probably wrong to assume that the trends and impacts of social networking will map out equally well across the globe. The availability of the Internet in Iran (though significant by standards in the Middle East) trails the U.S., Europe, and parts of Asia significantly. Additionally, Iranian infrastructure, while rapidly growing, does not provide most Iranians with access to broadband. Yet, through the Iranian diaspora, Iran's citizens achieved a global reach out of proportion to the nation's infrastructure. (2) The Internet is Neutral. No party can count on a decisive and unassailable advantage in cyberspace. (3) The Web Can Take It. The World Wide Web may be more resilient than commonly assumed. Despite Iran's limited infrastructure, denial-of-service attacks on both sides, and the insatiable global demand for information, the Internet held up well. (4) Crisis Mis-Management is a Grave Danger. Information assurance--knowing that data are precise and reliable--remains the most serious concern regarding social-networking tools. The global debate around the election protests demonstrated that rumors, perfidy, or inaccurate information can be dispersed at least as fast as facts. (5) Washington is Not So Hot. The U.S. government is not well prepared to exploit social-network tools during a crisis. Washington is well behind in its willingness and capacity to adapt to the world of Web 2.0.

The paper goes to make specific recommendations for how the US government should employ social networking technologies.

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