Tag Archives: Iran

Crowdsourcing Disaster Response in Iran: How Volunteers Bypassed the State

The double earthquakes that recently struck Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province killed over 300 people and left thousands more homeless. Iranians are par-ticularly adept at using Facebook and other social media platforms. So I was hardly surprised to learn that Iranian journalists launched a Facebook group to collect and and share reliable information related to the earthquake’s impact. Some of these journalists also visited the disaster-struck region to document the deva-station and aid in the relief efforts.

Existing Facebook groups were also used to bring help to those in need. One such group, called Female Equals Male, encouraged followers to donate blood at centers across the country. An Iranian who works at one of these centers was taken aback by the response: “… it was the first time that I have ever seen people being so eager to donate blood. It has always been us, pushing, advertising and asking people to do so.” Female Equals Male already had over 140,000 “likes” before the earthquake.

Like their Egyptian counterparts who crowdsourced volunteer convoys into Libya last year, young Iranians also organized caravans to bring relief to victims of the earthquake in the north of the country. They spontaneously organized a charity effort using SMS, Facebook and phone calls to collect money and relief supplies. “But instead of handing over their collection to the Iranian Red Crescent Society —which is close to the government—as the authorities had asked in the state media, these youths were determined to transport it themselves to the most remote hill villages ravaged by the earthquakes […].” And so they did.

There seem to be more and more examples like this one occurring–ordinary citizens and volunteers taking (disaster response) matters into their own hands:

Of course, this phenomenon is hardly new. First responders, by definition, are the disaster affected population themselves. What is new is that these people-centered crowdsourced efforts are increasingly public and easier to coordinate thanks to social networking platforms and mobile technologies. “In Iran, where the state is involved in all layers of society, it is exceptional for a group of young people to organize a public effort of disaster relief” (NYTimes). As I have hinted in previous blog posts, this ability to mobilize, organize and coordinate can have important political ramifications.

The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy

I defended my dissertation proposal in early 2008 but the majority of the literature most relevant and helpful to my doctoral research surfaced in 2009 and 2010. So I’m rather grateful to the PhD program at The Fletcher School for letting me run with my chosen dissertation topic given the limited empirical literature to draw on back then.

The best new book I’ve come across since my proposal is Philip Howard’s “The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam,” which was published just a few months ago. Howard seeks to answer the following question: “What is the causal recipe for democratization, and are information technologies an important ingredient?” More specifically, “The goal of this book is to analyze the ways in which new information technologies have contributed to democratic entrenchment or transition in countries with large Muslim communities.”

Howard demonstrates that “technology diffusion has had a crucial causal role in improvements in democratic institutions” and “that technology diffusion has become, in combination with other factors, both a necessary and sufficient cause of democratic transition or entrenchment.” Howard concludes: “Clearly the Internet and cell phones have not on their own caused a single democratic transition, but it is safe to conclude that today, no democratic transition is possible without information technologies.”

The book is getting superb reviews, and that is absolutely no surprise. This is truly the best book I’ve read on the topic of my dissertation thus far. Why? Howard’s research design and mixed-methods approach is by far the most rigorous one in the literature to date. I therefore plan to dedicate a few blog posts to summarize Howard’s approach and findings, starting here with the book’s prologue: “The Revolution in the Middle East will be Digitized,” which focuses on the Green Revolution in Iran. Below are some excerpts and commentary that reflect some of the key arguments from this first section of the book.

One of the main roles that information and communication technologies (ICTs) played in Iran was dissemination, which had a second-order effect on increasing levels of participation both in the streets and online.

“Opposition campaign managers in Iran consistently say that such Internet applications allow them to get messages out as never before and thereby organize bigger and bigger campaign rallies. Without access to broadcast media, savvy opposition campaigners turned social media applications like Facebook from minor pop culture fads into a major tool of political communication.”

“During the protests, even the most apolitical bloggers covered the demonstrations, and traffic at the dominant blogs swelled [and] social networking applications […] allowed even small enclaves to create content and reconnect with friends and family in Iran.”

“It does not matter that the number of bloggers, twitterers, or internet users may seem small, because in a networked social moment only a few ‘brokers’ need to be using these tools to keep everyone up to date.”

“These are the communication tools for the wealthy, urban, educated elites whose loyalties or defection will make or break authoritarian rule. Indeed, it is probably more useful to evaluate applications such as Twitter through the communities they support, rather than through tool features. […] Social movement scholars write that elite defection usually marks the end of an authoritarian regime.”

“In some ways the regime’s response was decidedly old media: expelling foreign correspondents, blocking phone lines, preventing the publication of daily newspapers, and accusing enemy governments of spreading misinformation.”

“They did not count on the large number of Iranians eager to submit their own content to international news agencies, and, perhaps more important, they did not realize that large numbers of Iranians would use social media to share their own personal stories of beatings, tear gas inhalation, and protest euphoria with each other.”

“Cyberactivism is no longer the unique provenance of isolated, politically motivated hackers. It is instead deeply integrated with contemporary social movement strategy and accessible to computer and mobile phone users with only basic skills: it is a distinguishing feature of modern political communication and a means of creating the élan that marks social change.”

Like Malcom Gladwell, Howard also addresses the role of strong and weak-ties in digital activism. To learn more about Gladwell’s point of view (and mine) regarding the question of social ties, please see my previous blog post here.

“Millions of people took to the streets in the week after the election results were announced and certainly not all were using Twitter. The majority of them, however, were responding to both strong and weak network ties and to the digital technologies designed to maintain those ties.”

“The unprecedented activation of weak social ties brought the concerns of disaffected youth, cheated voters, and beaten protesters to the attention of the mullahs. The result was a split within the ruling establishment on how to deal with the insurgency, how to proceed with counting ballots, and how to credibly authorize Ahmadinejad to take power.”

Howard’s balanced approach to the impact of ICTs on democracy is one of the main strengths of his book.

“So the country has one of the world’s most vibrant social media communities and the most concentrated broadcast media system in the Muslim world. Why, then, has the digital revolution in Iran not had the type of clear political outcomes or institutional consequences seen in other authoritarian regimes?”

“The answer, in part, is that while such information technologies have become a fundamental infrastructure for journalists and civil society groups, they are a necessary but not sufficient causal condition for contemporary regime change. So based on real-world experience, what is the causal recipe for democratization, and are information technologies an important ingredient?”

“In the language of fuzzy sets ways, Iran’s postelection insurgency was almost an example of a digital revolution. In is unlikely that protests would have lasted as long, raised so much international support, and had such an impact on domestic politics had it not been for mobile phones and the internet. The internet did not cause the insurgency, and it is probably a truism to say that no contemporary democratic revolution in the Middle East will happen without the internet. In times of political crisis, banal tools for wasting time, like Twitter and YouTube, become the supporting infrastructure of social movements. As one ethnic Azeri blogger told me, the regime has learned that the Internet makes collective action possible.”

“Technology alone does not cause political change—it did not in Iran’s case. But it does provide new capacities and impose new constraints on political actors. New information technologies do not topple dictators; they are used to catch dictators off-guard.”

That last paragraph resonates with me and relates to this idea of information cascades that Dan Drezner has written about here. The momentary window of opportunity that reversals information cascades offer can be used to catch dictators off-guard. This explains why preparedness and training is important.

So what ultimately was the actual impact of the 2009 protests? According to Howard,

“Digital media sustained protests well beyond what pundits expected. Indeed, this new information infrastructure gave social movement leaders the capacity not only to reach out to sympathetic audiences overseas but also to reach two important domestic constituencies: rural, conservative voters who had few connections to the urban chaos; and the clerical establishment.”

“Most important, the Internet gave the social movement access to the clerical establishment through weak ties of social networks that connected mullahs to Iranians on the street.”

“Iran’s street protests failed to topple their government. But just as important, the world’s most technologically advanced censors failed to manage the government’s election crisis. And the region’s dictators have a new concern: their own tech-savvy, disaffected youth.”

“The world has seen interest in change expressed from within Iran, and this may prove to be the most destabilizing outcome of the protests. The regime’s brutalities streamed around the globe. The world saw the dissent; the regime knows the world saw the dissent.”

This idea of shared awareness appeals to me a lot, not least because of my work on the Ushahidi platform since the tool—when used correctly—can generate shared awareness. But why is shared awareness even important in this context?

As Shirky recently noted here, “social media tools provides participants with ’shared awareness,’ the ability of each member of a group to not only understand the situation at hand but also understand that everyone else does, too.” Dan Drezner takes it one step further, arguing here that, “the ability of the state to repress can evaporate […] at moments when a critical mass off citizens recognizes their mutual dissatisfaction with their government.”

For me, one of the most salient points that Howard makes in the prologue to this book is this: “The initial conditions for social movement organizing are very different from those of the pre-internet era.” Here are some other key take-aways:

“In contemporary systems of political communication, citizens turn to the Internet as a source of news and information in times of political crisis. It is not only that online social networking services are influential as a communications media; rather, they are now also a fundamental infrastructure for social movements. And the Internet globalizes local struggles.”

“Information and communication technologies are the infrastructure for transposing democratic ideals from community to community. They support the process of learning new approaches to political representation, of testing new organizational strategies, and of cognitively extending the possibilities and prospects for political transformation from one context to another.”

“But it would be a mistake to tie any theory of social change to a particular piece of software. In the summer of 2009 the Iranian insurgency was very much shaped by several digital communication tools, which allowed social movements within the country to organize protests and exchange information and made it possible for those groups to maintain contact with the rest of the world.”

“Traditional radio and televised appeals did not figure in the mobilization, and they are not very important to understanding what happened in Iran last summer.”

“If new information technologies such as mobile phones and the Internet provided the communications infrastructure for mobiliza- tion, was the lack of democratic transition a technological or social failing?”

This last question is spot on and for me the correct way to phrase the debate on digital activism in repressive environments. The question can also be applied to deployments of the Ushahidi platform, i.e., is the lack of impact of an Ushahidi deployment a technological or social failing?

Howard makes a number of points in his prologue that made me think about the Ushahidi and SwiftRiver platforms. For example,

“Authoritarian regimes always conduct propaganda battles over broadcast media. But what is the regime countermeasure for the chilling effects of a plea from someone in your social network who has been a victim of police brutality?”

“Rafsanjani developed a plan for ad hoc exit polling by mobile phones. Deliberative democracy theorists argue that independent exit polling is a key logistical feature of healthy election practices. This probably explains why disabling mobile phone services is so important for discouraging any organized measurement of how rigged a contemporary election may be.”

“Specialty Persian news channels in Los Angeles received hundreds of digital videos daily, and YouTube became the repository for the digitally captured, lived experiences of the chaotic streets of Tehran. On June 20, Neda Agha-Soltan was shot dead at a demonstration, and her death was caught on several mobile phone cameras.”


Twitter in Iran: Where I disagree with Will Heaven vs Josh Shahryar

Will Heaven of the Daily Telegraph and EA‘s Josh Shahryar have been engaged in a battle of words on the role of Twitter in Iran. I think the battle has now drawn to a close. Given the popularity of my previous post on “Where I disagree with Morozov and Shirky on Digital Activism,” I thought I’d continue the series, which also helps me keep track of my notes for my dissertation.

————

It all started on December 29th when Will published this article in the Daily Telegraph:

Iran and Twitter: the fatal folly of the online revolutionaries

Which he followed up with this blog post, still on the Daily Telegraph:

Iran’s brutal regime won’t be toppled by Twitter and the niceties of social media

This provoked the following response from Josh (the page may be down):

Twitter Revolution 101: Get Your Facts Right

Will in turn replied to Josh’s post with one of his own:

My response to Twitterati: stop putting Iranian lives at risk

Finally, unless I’ve missed another exchange, Josh posted this closing response yesterday:

Iran & Twitter: Last Words on The Hell of Heaven

————

I copied and pasted this lengthy exchange in a Word document (available here) and did a word count. The debate generated over 7,500 words. That’s about 12 pages, single-space of font-size 10 text. I’ve re-read this document several times and I’m not quite sure what the debate ultimately amounts to. They both make very good points but neither is willing to concede that.

In my opinion, the contentious exchange stems from the use of the word “revolution” and the subsequent arms-race of anecdotes that all too often causes more confusion than clarity. When Will uses the term, “there has been no revolution in Iran,” he implies a political revolution whereas Josh—on several occasions—clearly states that he’s talking about a revolution in information dissemination: “That Revolution is about awareness, not provoking a political revolt or helping it directly.”

In any case, here are my individual comments on their exchange.

My Response to Will

Will: It’s deluded to think that “hashtags”, “Tweets” and “Twibbons” have threatened the regime for a second.

Really? Then why would the regime or sympathetic elements within Iran try to shut it down?

Will: Here’s the other thing “social media experts” will forget to tell you: dictatorships across the world now use their own tools to hunt down online protesters.

I would like to challenge Will to find one “social media expert” who forgets that digital repression is real. Please see my previous blog post on this.

Will: And it is foolish to think that their use [Tor, Freebase] guarantees safety: if the Revolutionary Guard were to find someone using the software, the consequences would be dire.

Both Will and Josh are fixated on technology at the expense of tactics. I think they’d find this guide on how to communicate securely in repressive environments of interest. There needs to be more cross-fertilization between civil resistance strategies and digital activism tactics. See this post for more.

And before either fault me for making the above guide public, all the information in said-guide is already public and available online. Repressive regimes may very well be aware of most of the tactics and technologies used, but just like chess, this doesn’t mean one side can defeat the other at every game.

Will: When you consider the danger posed to Iranians by online participation – compared with what online participation has achieved – the overall result is hardly tangible, and certainly not worth the risks which have been undertaken.

True, perhaps, but a little too passive a statement for my tastes. Those risks are not static, they can be reduced; hence the guide. And hence the need for more education and training in digital activism around the world. See Tactical Tech‘s excellent work in this area, for example.

One other point that Will overlooks (understandably since he doesn’t live in the US) is the stunning shift in perception that took place in the minds of Americans when viewing Iran’s post-election protests. Prior to the elections, the word Iran would generally evoke the following: “Nuclear weapons”, “Kill the Great Satan”, etc. But after young Iranians took to the streets and the protests were documented on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, many Americans finally realized that “the other” was perhaps not that different. The shift in mindset was huge.

My Response to Josh

I largely agree with Josh’s take on the role of Twitter in Iran although I see why it’s easy for Will to carefully select one or two arguments and push back. In any case, I do take issue with this comment:

Josh: The fact that Iranians are dying is not the fault of Westerners. It is not even a fault. It is a sacrifice that Iranians must make to gain their freedom.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) suggests that state sovereignty is contingent on a state protecting it’s citizens. A regime that kills some 400 citizens in response to street protests should hardly have the right to remain sovereign. There should be a Chapter 7 UN mandate with 20,000 observers in Iran to prevent any more violence. Realistically though, I don’t know what the solution to this crisis is, but I do feel that we’re all responsible for the bloodshed.

I definitely disagree with Josh’s implication that revolutions require death and destruction. “Be smart, don’t be dead” is what I tell political activists. There are very good reasons why nonviolent action is called “A Force More Powerful.” Digital activists really need to get up to speed on nonviolent civil resistance tactics and strategies just as the latter need to get up to speed on how to communicate more securely in repressive environments.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Twitter and Iran: First Get the Data, Then Talk

I just attended a panel at Harvard University on “The Impact of Social Media in the Middle East” which is part of a 3-day conference on the Middle East and North Africa. My colleagues Rob Faris from the Berkman Center and Evgeny Morozov now at Georgetown were both on the panel in addition to Iranian-American activist Lily Mazahery and Kuwaiti blogger Ziad Al-Duaij.

The panelists engaged in rapid-fire debate on the role of Twitter in Iran after their presentations. The typical laundry list of anecdotes were thrown around to win the hearts and minds of the audience.  The summary: Yes, Twitter had a significant impact; No Twitter had no significant impact.

Maybe it’s because I hadn’t eaten all day, but I found this all quite annoying. This is precisely the kind of anecdotal acrobatics that prompted me—two years ago—to pursue a dissertation on The Role of New Media and Technology in Popular Resistance Against Repressive Rule.

If you look close enough, you’ll find that many of the debates in the “field” of digital activism are based on strings of anecdotes. The preponderance of these would have us believe that new media and digital technology spell certain democracy. Yet an increasing number of anecdotes reveal (surprise, surprise) that repressive regimes are making use of new media and technology to forward their own agendas.

So where exactly does this leave us?

In anecdotal heaven or data scarcity hell, depending on your own agenda. I chose to pursue a dissertation in this area because I want to get beyond anecdotal ping pong. Yes, we have more and more anecdotes. And that’s great. But what do all these anecdotes add up to? Are we starting to see a trend emerge? Who is winning this digital—albeit dangerous—game of cat-and-mouse?

I don’t mind being in anecdotal heaven since I realize that hard data is rather hard to come by. But I wish the panelists had been upfront and just said: “Right, given the general lack of quantitative data and rigorous qualitative case study analysis, we have to resort anecdotes, so bear with us as we warm up for our anecdotal ping pong tournament.”

Don’t get me wrong, all the panelists have a wealth of experience and insights to draw on that I simply don’t have. So all I can do is emphasize the need for more data collection and a mixed methods approach to answer the question on everyone’s mind:

Does access to new media and digital technology
change the balance of power

between repressive regimes and resistance movements?

This is what I’m trying to get at with my dissertation. Of course, the answer will be: “It depends”. But at least I’ll be able to draw on data and comparative case study analysis to make an informed judgment on what “it” depends on. How do I plan to get there? See this blog post for the quantitative model and this blog post where I propose an analytical qualitative framework to understand the impact of new media and technology on repressive rule and civil resistance.

But I do not claim that my research design is perfect, which is why I’d be grateful for any feedback iRevolution readers may have.

Patrick Philippe Meier

An Analytical Framework to Understand Twitter’s use in Iran?

The digital activism and resistance witnessed in Iran go to the heart of my dissertation research, which asks whether the information revolution empowers coercive regimes at the expense of resistance movements or vice versa? Iran is one of my case studies for my upcoming field research in addition to Burma, Tunisia and Ukraine.

Introduction

There have been a number of excellent blog posts on the intersection between technology and resistance in Iran, and especially on the use of Twitter. The mainstream press is also awash with references to Twitter’s role. For example, Agence France Presse (AFP) recently cited my research in this piece entitled “Twitter Streams Break Iran News Dam.”

However, what I haven’t seen in the blogosphere and mainstream press is the application of an analytical and theoretical framework to place Twitter’s use in Iran into context.

For example, just how important is/was Twitter’s role vis-a-vis the mobilization and organization of anti-government protests in Iran? We can draw on anecdotes here and there but this process is devoid of any applied social science methodology.

This post seeks to shed light on how, when and why information and communication technologies (ICTs) are used by resistance movements in repressive environments. The framework I draw on (summarized below) is informed by Kelly Garrett’s excellent publication on “Protest in an Information Society: A Review of the Literature on Social Movements and New ICTs” (2006).

Framework

The framework seeks to “explain the emergence, development and outcomes of social movements by addressing three interrelated factors: mobilizing structures, opportunity structures and framing processes”  within the context of ICTs. (The figure below is excerpted from my dissertation, hence the figure 4 reference).

PhDFramework

  • Mobilizing Structures are the mechanisms that facilitate organization and collective action. These include social structures and tactical repertoires.
  • Opportunity Structures are conditions that favor social movement activity. For example, these include factors such as the state’s capacity and propensity for repression.
  • Framing Processes are “strategic attempts to craft, disseminate, and contest the language and narratives used to describe a movement.”

These three factors should be further disaggregated to facilitate analysis. For example, mobilizing structures can be divided into categories susceptible to the impact of ICTs:

  • Participation levels (recruitment);
  • Contentious activity;
  • Organizational issues.

These sub-indicators are still to broad, however. Take, for example, participation levels; what is participation a function of? What underlying mechanisms are facilitated or constrained by the wider availability and use of ICTs? Participation levels may change as a function of three factors:

  • Reduction of participation costs;
  • Promotion of collective identity;
  • Creation of community.

These activities are of course not mutually exclusive but often interdependent. In any case, taking the analysis of ICTs in repressive environments to the tactical level facilitates the social science methodology of process tracing.

Application

We can apply the above framework to test a number of hypotheses regarding Twitter’s use in Iran. Take Mobilizing Structures, for example. The following hypothesis could be formulated.

  • Hypothesis 1: The availability of Twitter in Iran increased participation levels, contentious activity and organizational activity.

Using process tracing and the above framework, one could test hypothesis 1 as follows:

hypo1

These causal chains, or “micro theories,” are posited with the “⎥” marker to signify that the causal relationship is contended. The direction of the arrows above reflects the theoretical narratives extracted from the theoretical framework presented above. Note that the above “micro” theories are general and not necessarily reflective of Twitter’s use in Iran.

Iran Case Study

When the arrows are tallied, the results suggest the following general theory: there is a direct and positive relationship between the impact of Twitter and the incidents of protests and riots. The next step is to test these “micro theories” in the context of Iran by actually “weighting” the arrows. And of course, to do so comparatively by testing the use of Twitter relative to the use of mobile phones and the Internet. Furthermore, the results of this hypothesis testing should be compared to those for Opportunity Structures and Framing Processes.

I plan to carry out field research to qualitatively test these hypotheses once the first phase of my dissertation is completed. The first phase is a large-N quantitative study to determine whether increasing access to ICTs in repressive regimes is a statistically significant predictor of anti-government protests.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Iran: Mullahs Impose Restrictions on SMS

Mobile phone users in Iran who wish to use the SMS feature on their mobile phones will now be required to apply for security clearance by the Ministry of of Intelligence and Security.

Sending SMS deemed contrary to national security will be punishable by law. Any change of address by the subscriber of the service must be reported promptly to the relevant authorities. It is the security agents who decide which SMS are in breach of national security .

In October, A number of senior officials of the Iranian regime’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (MCIG), the main body for imposing censorship, have expressed its deep concern over the use of SMS messaging by the Iranian Resistance’s network inside Iran (source).

Some 20 million text messages are sent every day in Iran according to some sources. Will the new regulation have a significant impact on that number? If so, will the regime care at all about the loss of revenue?

Patrick Philippe Meier

Mapping the Persian Blogosphere (Updated)

Harvard’s Berkman Center has just released a fascinating study on the politics and culture of the Persian Blogosphere.

Berkman’s social network analysis reveals four major network clusters (with identifiable sub-clusters) in the Iranian blogosphere. The authors have labeled the four clusters as 1) Secular / Reformist, 2) Conservative / Religious, 3) Persian Poetry and Literature, and 4) Mixed Networks.

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.

So are we likely to witness iRevolutions in Iran?

In authoritarian regimes, networked communications can allow participants to get around state control. As an example, Radio B92 in Serbia simply broadcast through the Internet after the government attempted to shut it down. In Iran, satellite TV, Internet based radio stations, cell phones, and other Internet based tools are difficult if not impossible for the regime to control. Costs are generally high for regimes that limit access and connectivity. The Internet will not lead automatically to liberal, open public spheres in authoritarian regimes, but it will make it harder to control and more costly for authoritarian states to do so. [...]

Early conventional wisdom held that bloggers were all young democrats critical of the regime, but we found conversations including politics, human rights, poetry, religion, and pop culture. Given the repressive media environment and high profile arrests and harassment of bloggers, one might not expect to find much political contestation taking place in the Iranian blogosphere. And yet oppositional discourse is robust. [...]

In conclusion, the authors essentially pose the same question that I am exploring for my dissertation:

The question at hand is not whether the Iranian blogosphere provides a Samizdat to the regime’s Politburo, but whether the new infrastructure of the social nervous system, which is changing politics in the US and around the world, will also change politics in Iran, and perhaps move its hybrid authoritarian/democratic system in a direction that is more liberal in the sense of modes of public discourse, if not necessarily in a direction that is more liberal in the sense of political ideology.

Berkman’s next step should be to move from static network analysis to dynamic analysis. The topology of the network itself over time should reveal other interesting insights. I would recommend they look up Mark Newman at the Santa Fe Institute. Another software program for networks analysis that I would suggest they use is one used to model foodweb dynamics in 3D. This clip demonstrates the program’s features.

Update: I just met with Josh Goldstein, a researcher at the Berkman Center who contributed to this study. Josh was interested in getting more of my thoughts on possible next steps regarding future research using social network analysis (SNA). I suggested they track network parameters (such as degree centrality) over time and find explanations for changes over time. In other words, plot the number of edges that each node (blogger) is connected to over time. For example, how does degree centrality change within the different clusters identified by Berkman after a terrorist events, i.e, events exogenous to the network? Recent research suggests that blogs display a power law relationship between frequency and magnitude, i.e., there are many nodes with few edges, and few nodes with many edges. Does the Persian blogosphere follow this distribution? Why or why not? Does the slope of the power law distribution become flatter or steeper following crises events? Again, why or why not? What social science explanations account for changes in network topologies over time?

Patrick Philippe Meier