Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Take on the Internet

From I&D Guest Blogger Hamid Tehrani, Global Voices Iran Editor

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) at the end of 2008 made a historic announcement: a project to launch 10,000 blogs for the paramilitary Basij forces. (1)

IRGC’s official press organ, Sobh Sadegh, writes that it considered the Internet and other digital devices including SMS as a threat to be controlled. It announced that the 10,000 blogs will promote revolutionary ideas. IRGC considers the Internet as an instrument for a “velvet revolution” and warned that foreign countries have invested in this tool to topple the Islamic Regime.

The use of social networking or blogging by military forces is not new. The U.S. Army has launched a video series that documents events in Iraq. (2) A series of blogs have also covered military activities in a number of countries, including Sri Lanka. (3)

What makes the IRGC project particularly interesting is its uniquely large scale, its timing and its possible consequences.

For years, different political groups, ranging from leftist students and women activists to ready-to-be-martyrs Hezbollah members, have been active in the blogosphere. Reformist politicians and hardliners such as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discovered blogging years ago.

It seems that IRGC, an ideologically motivated military force with important business interests in the country, is acting like a supermarket that wants to establish its shops all over the city and shut down small groceries by any means necessary. But why now?

Uncontrolled bytes bite

Iranian authorities control all TV and radio programming in the country. Almost all newspapers that express an independent viewpoint have been banned. The only media tool available for Iranian citizens and the civil society movement is the Internet. And they use it as a tool to both inform and organize.

For example, last year information about corruption emerged on Iranian Web sites and blogs, which had an impact in real life. Such news challenged Ayatholas, informed people about student demonstrations and the repression of women by security agents, and forced some high-ranked officials to resign. The Islamic republic finally had to face non-controlled information and the reaction from the public.

In early summer 2008, a member of Iran’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission, Abbas Palizdar, created a scandal by accusing several top clerics and influential members of the Islamic Republic of corruption in a speech at Booali University in Hamadan. (4) He offered details of many illegal business deals and criminal offences, and pointed the finger at several of Iran’s leading political figures, including influential Ayatollahs. Video footage of the speech spread through blogs and Internet media. Palizadar was arrested, and for the first time high-ranking clerics were named and shamed.

In another event in summer 2008, students at Zanjan University in northwest Iran recorded and uploaded a video of their school’s vice president, Hassan Madadi, with his shirt unbuttoned. He was allegedly preparing to have sex with a female student. Several Iranian websites and blogs say the female student had alerted her university’s Islamic Student Association that he had pressured her to have sex with him. (5)

These two examples only begin to show the growing impact of Iranian citizen media.

Iranian bloggers have used the Internet to talk about demonstrations against dictatorship and gender discrimination, or to support political prisoners.

According to officials, 5 million blogs and sites have been filtered. But it seems that filtering has not had the desired impact.

A good example of the inefficiency of filtering is the Campaign4equality case. This feminist site has been filtered 18 times. It seems that civil activists have not been discouraged by the filtering policy.

The Iranian government continues to put pressure on cyber activists but it is almost impossible to fight the ones who are anonymous.

Since filtering and repression does not stop the civil rights movement from growing, then it is IRGC’s turn to play the game.

IRGC is the military force that enforces Islamic Revolution principles, just like the Turkish army that protects secularism. IRGC realized that the Internet and the free flow of information is out of its control and can hurt the regime. Does IRCG have a solution? Is 10,000 is the magic number?

Mass production of toothless soldiers

The Basij (Persian for “mobilization”) is a large and omnipresent paramilitary organization with multifaceted roles, such as repressing urban unrest. It created human-wave attacks against Iraqi forces during the final years of the Iran-Iraq war. It seems that IRCG took the wrong virtual path through Tehran’s streets and battlefields in that war.

The presence of 10,000 Basiji blogs without interesting content and quality will fail to attract readers or promote any ideas. The Islamic Republic’s state-controlled media has been a failure for three decades. The Iranian regime in recent years launched several TV channels, but even poor-quality satellite dishes became a must-have for millions of Iranians to access banned foreign films, music clips or news.

The Islamic Republic easily banned certain journals and magazines, but it failed to attract readers to its conservative Keyhan and similar publications.

The Islamic Republic will likely end up with another failed scenario in the media world, this time in the blogsphere.

The Iranian State has supported a cleric-controlled organization, the Office for Religious Blogs Development, to promote religious bloggers in the last two years. Yet, this organization has come under fire from Islamists for its lack of revolutionary zeal.

Blogs are personal and accessible, with no intermediaries. They are where people express their ideas and opinions. In contrast, Basij blogs probably will be a mass production of obedient voices who will be careful about the content of their posts as Big Brother watches them.

According to Harvard University’s Berkman Center study, a very significant number of Islamist bloggers who support the Islamic Republic write anonymously.(6) The main reason is that red lines are not defined in the Islamic Republic. These same ill-defined red lines will restrain any free action and thought in mass-produced blogs. They are an invisible border that makes people shut up and be censored.

Basij forces have a reputation for loyalty to Islamic leaders — ready to repress and sacrifice. Such characteristics are not an asset in the Iranian blogosphere. Perhaps the IRGC should open a military base in Second Life and try to chase Iranian activists there, if it is able to find any.

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24 Responses to “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Take on the Internet”

  1. Patrick Meier Says:

    Very intereseting, thanks for writing this up, Hamid.

  2. Propaganda for the converted | Antony Loewenstein Says:

    [...] Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have launched a plan to start 10,000 blogs for the paramilitary Basij forces as a counter-weight to the perceived [...]

  3. کمانگیر » Blog Archive » Links for 2009-01-08 [del.icio.us] Says:

    [...] Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Take on the Internet I&D Blog The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) at the end of 2008 made a historic announcement: a project to launch 10,000 blogs for the paramilitary Basij forces. (1) IRGC’s official press organ, Sobh Sadegh, writes that it considered the Internet and other digital devices including SMS as a threat to be controlled. It announced that the 10,000 blogs will promote revolutionary ideas. IRGC considers the Internet as an instrument for a “velvet revolution” and warned that foreign countries have invested in this tool to topple the Islamic Regime. [...]

  4. کمانگیر » Blog Archive » Links for 2009-01-08 [del.icio.us] Says:

    [...] Iran”s Revolutionary Guards Take on the Internet I&D Blog The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) at the end of 2008 made a historic announcement: a project to launch 10,000 blogs for the paramilitary Basij forces. (1) IRGC’s official press organ, Sobh Sadegh, writes that it considered the Internet and other digital devices including SMS as a threat to be controlled. It announced that the 10,000 blogs will promote revolutionary ideas. IRGC considers the Internet as an instrument for a “velvet revolution” and warned that foreign countries have invested in this tool to topple the Islamic Regime. [...]

  5. clalexander Says:

    “The presence of 10,000 Basiji blogs without interesting content and quality will fail to attract readers or promote any ideas. The Islamic Republic’s state-controlled media has been a failure for three decades. The Iranian regime in recent years launched several TV channels, but even poor-quality satellite dishes became a must-have for millions of Iranians to access banned foreign films, music clips or news.”

    This is the heart of the matter. The IRGC’s plans will have little effect unless their content has substance and an audience. Sheer numbers mean nothing.

    The Iranian government wants to eat their cake and have it too. They need to choose between asserting their authority and maintaining their legitimacy when it comes to the internet. The fine line they try to walk now, at least from an outside perspective, undermines both.

  6. Iran: ‘net threat-Internet & Democracy « FACT - Freedom Against Censorship Thailand Says:

    [...] Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Take on the Internet Hamid Tehrani, Global Voices Iran Editor Internet & Democracy: January 8, 2009 [...]

  7. What Really Scares the IRGC? : The Intelligence Wars Says:

    [...] of 10,000 bloggers. Blogger Hamid Tehrani has posted an interesting and well written post in the Internet & Democracy [...]

  8. …My heart’s in Accra » links for 2009-01-13 Says:

    [...] Iran%u2019s Revolutionary Guards Take on the Internet I&D Blog Excellent piece by Hamid Tehrani analyzing an Iranian effort to create 10,000 pro-government, pro-military blogs. Tehrani sees this as a way of shouting down independent voices in the Iranian blogosphere, noting that the blogosphere is now the least controlled space for speech and debate in Iranian society. (tags: globalvoices internet blogging socialmedia iran freespeech censorship 50centparty) [...]

  9. Iran, l’orda dei blogger fedeli alla Repubblica islamica » Panorama.it - Mondo Says:

    [...] sui campi minati. Oggi le battaglie si spostano anche su internet e le strategie si sono adeguate: nei prossimi mesi saranno pubblicati sul web diecimila blog delle milizie Basij. Una vera e propria orda digitale per [...]

  10. » Israel to Fund “Army of Bloggers” I&D Blog Says:

    [...] friend passed on this Haaretz article about how Israel, like Iran, is now recruiting an army of bloggers. Interestingly, however, the Iranian effort seems aimed at [...]

  11. 网远镜 » 美国空军是如何做五毛工作 Says:

    [...] Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Take on the Internet Written by feng37, 01/22/2009 at 4:34 am Category 五毛学. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « 以色例政府设立‘网民军队’去与反犹太复国主义网站争斗 zt: 中国加大互联网审查力度 » [...]

  12. winston Says:

    How can you compare the US Army blogging initiative with a terrorist group like that of IRGC?

  13. » Iran: A Nation of Bloggers I&D Blog Says:

    [...] (although there is plenty of that, especially in the Secular/Reformist pole). And as Hamid Tehrani blogged here a couple weeks ago, the regime’s recent call for 10,000 Basij bloggers is an example of [...]

  14. » Mapping Change in the Iranian Blogosphere I&D Blog Says:

    [...] example of this increased ’state-engagement’ in cyberspace is found in Hamid Tehrani’s recent post about the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ plan to recruit 10,000 Basij bloggers. This may [...]

  15. Michael Netzley, CommunicateAsia, corporate communication, Asia, Web 2.0, digital media Says:

    [...] when it comes to media activism.  Rather than just merely shouting from the mountain top, this post reports that Iran is planning to launch 10,000 [...]

  16. Valentine’s Day roundup: more Iranian netroots, Saudi Arabia and satellite TV, and net piracy… « Radical Instrument Says:

    [...] cluster. The authors note that this could represent a debate around Islamic law, or may reflect an effort by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to recruit 10,000 bloggers (the cyber-equivalent of opening a Starbucks on every [...]

  17. » Facebook Diplomacy: How Governments are Exploiting the Internet I&D Blog Says:

    [...] the Internet. He cites a number of examples we’ve brought to light on this blog, including Iranian Basiji bloggers and their location on our new Iranian blogosphere map, Israel-directed bloggers during the war in [...]

  18. بامِ وبلاگشهر » Blog Archive » وبلاگ‌های بسیج، توهمی مخرب Says:

    [...] بروز خارجی یافت؛ به گونه ای که در بخشی از یادداشتِ «سپاه پاسداران انقلاب اسلامی ایران به اینترنت وارد می‌

  19. America’s Answer to China’s 50 Cents Party: K Street Lobbyists | Gauravonomics Blog Says:

    [...] in controlling the internet through propaganda that it doesn’t need to censor the internet. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have also started using blogs for [...]

  20. Brown Bourne: Favorites Says:

    [...] http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/idblog/2009/01/08/irans-revolutionary-guards-take-on-the-internet/ * [...]

  21. ทำบุญวันเกิด Says:

    It am always sad everytime to see this issue. Especially in my country this issue does not so much like in Iran, but in fact it should not happen at the democracy country. Right?

  22. El Oso » Archive » Summary of Cloud Intelligence Symposium Says:

    [...] Iran has a long history of web censorship, but election candidates grew reliant on social media during their campaigns and so, Tehrani believes, the Iranian government stopped blocking access to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube three months before voters went to the polls. Social media played an important role in 1.) keeping protesters informed and 2.) creating a two-way bridge of communication between Iranian citizens and the outside world. Tehrani criticizes western media for its over-emphasis on technology and its under-emphasis on the Iranian people. He points to headlines like “tweeting the revolution”, “the tweeted revolution”, and “a Nobel Peace Prize for Twitter?” as examples of misguided western coverage. In fact, he argues, Twitter was not used to organize demonstrations and often caused misinformation, as in the case when one tweeting protester claimed that 700,000 people were at a rally when in fact there were less than 5,000. He concludes by noting that westerners tend to think of the Iranian blogosphere as a face of reformist progressivism when in fact the conservative blogging community is both substantial and expanding. [...]

  23. Global Voices Advocacy » Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps launch 40 IRGC’s blogs Says:

    [...] should be mentioned that The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps abnnuced the launch of 10.000 blogs for the paramilitary Basij forces at the end of 2008 to control the Internet and other digital [...]

  24. Ida Noa Says:

    [...] At the end of 2008, the charmers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps stated that they will launch 10.000 blogs for the paramilitary Basij forces ‘in order to control the internet and other digital devices, [...]