Twitter, the network of the Iranian revolt

It’s been almost 3 months since Mahsa Amini was arrested in Iran by the morality police for the reason that she was wearing the wrong veil. Almost 3 months since he died after being arrested by the same police. According to her family and activists, Mahsa Amini was beaten to death following this arrest. Since then, he has become a symbol of protest in the country. Women are in the streets, burning their veils. A feminist revolution but not only, because these women were joined by many Iranian men, especially by the new generation leading these protests.

The protests were severely repressed: more than 450 demonstrators were killed, and 18,000 people were arrested according to human rights organizations. These demonstrations are almost daily, and they have gained such importance that the Iranian regime has finally given in to one of their main demands: to suppress this morality police. A great social and political change in the country. I remember that this morality police was established in 2005 under the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This decision also comes at an important moment: the Iranian government can no longer hide what is happening in the country… and thanks to social networks. So obviously, they tried to censor them by putting digital curfews or banning access to applications like Whatsapp or Instagram, except that the Iranians found their own megaphone 2.0: Twitter. And yes, the microblogging social network that has been heavily criticized since Musk arrived does not have ONLY negative sides. Especially not in Iran. Here protesters share videos of their rallies, and the law enforcement violence they face. It was also on Twitter that we saw for the first time shocking images of women burning their veils on the streets of Tehran as a sign of protest. We also see video montages of activists filming themselves protesting and their arrests. But there are more traumatic images, of injured people, or of the bodies of those killed during police riots. Twitter became their medium of rebellion…the one where they shared the truth of what they were going through.

These contents are viewed, shared, liked millions of times by the whole world supporting the Iranian people. And it must be said: it is very important what happens on Twitter, because Iran is known as one of the most repressive countries in terms of Internet censorship after China or Russia. So the government is also cutting the network. They go back and forth about this a bit, but now with all the tools that exist to circumvent censorship, it’s easier to stay connected.

And then, something important: the networks make it possible to find some names of the victims or of the people arrested there, because the government is obviously not in touch with their identities. The BBC is trying to identify their names through videos and information provided by their relatives on Twitter. There are also government opposition groups that have gained a lot of space on the networks. The 1500tasvir collective, for example, has nearly tripled its audience since the uprisings with 400,000 followers on Twitter, and more than 1.7 million on Insta. Important groups, because disinformation reigns in the country, especially in the government-owned media.

After that there is always a double-edged sword. The Iranian regime is also trying to use Twitter to manipulate information. Twitter deleted more than 5,000 government-related accounts in 2019. Since then, new ones have reappeared, but users have been quick to report them. But Iranians continue to call Twitter a “safe place”, and hope it will stay that way. Their fear is that with fewer and fewer moderation teams, the government’s disinformation campaigns will end up taking over their own movement.

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