The Internet and Democracy project represents a series of studies carried out by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University that examine “how the internet influences democratic norms and modes, including its impact on civil society, citizen media, government transparency and the rule of law, with a focus on the Middle East”.
The Center’s initial studies looked at areas where the internet’s influence on democracy has been significant: at the impact of news site, OhmyNews, on the 2002 elections in South Korea; at the use of mobile technology in the organisation of protesters during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution; and, as shown above, at the Iranian blogosphere and its possible impact on political and democratic processes. The results from this third study offer up some interesting conclusions on the rise of blog culture within Iran…
Here’s the abstract to the paper that the Internet and Democracy project put together. It explains the contents of the map and also outlines some of the findings:
“In contrast to the conventional wisdom that Iranian bloggers are mainly young democrats critical of the regime, we found a wide range of opinions representing religious conservative points of view as well as secular and reform-minded ones, and topics ranging from politics and human rights to poetry, religion, and pop culture.
Our research indicates that the Persian blogosphere is indeed a large discussion space of approximately 60,000 routinely updated blogs featuring a rich and varied mix of bloggers.
Social network analysis reveals the Iranian blogosphere to be dominated by four major network formations, or poles, with identifiable sub-clusters of bloggers within those poles. We label the poles as 1) Secular/Reformist, 2) Conservative/Religious, 3) Persian Poetry and Literature, and 4) Mixed Networks [as shown on the above map].
The secular/reformist pole contains both expatriates and Iranians involved in a dialog about Iranian politics, among many other issues. The conservative/religious pole contains three distinct sub-clusters, two focused principally on religious issues and one on politics and current affairs.
Given the repressive political and media environment, and high profile arrests and harassment of bloggers, one might not expect to find much political contestation in the blogosphere. However, we identified a subset of the secular/reformist pole focused intently on politics and current affairs and comprised mainly of bloggers living inside Iran, which is linked in contentious dialog with the conservative political sub-cluster.
Surprisingly, a minority of bloggers in the secular/reformist pole appear to blog anonymously, even in the more politically-oriented part of it; instead, it is more common for bloggers in the religious/conservative pole to blog anonymously.
Blocking of blogs by the government is less pervasive than we had assumed. Most of the blogosphere network is visible inside Iran, although the most frequently blocked blogs are clearly those in the secular/reformist pole.
Given the repressive media environment in Iran today, blogs may represent the most open public communications platform for political discourse. The peer-to-peer architecture of the blogosphere is more resistant to capture or control by the state than the older, hub and spoke architecture of the mass media model.”
You can download the full paper here.
Thanks to Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic for spotting the original Berkman Center post.