After the tragic and brutal murder of Neda Agha-Soltan on desolate Tehran soil, the man who shot the footage of it in a journalist-banned area knew he had done something monumental. He recognized that he had done something that would infuriate his government and had to be mindful of his own safety.
He considered posting the video to YouTube or FaceBook, but those were too mainstream and were monitored meticulously. Instead, he turned to a close confidant, emailing him the low resolution, minuscule two-megabyte video. Quickly, this friend propagated it to everyone, sending it to "Voice of America", the newspaper "The Guardian", and five of his friends. The message was inscribed with: "Let the world know."
People copied the video and posted it on multiple websites and others who had their own video and picture evidence came out of the woodwork. After appearing on YouTube, it aired on CNN, and soon everyone in American knew the once-nameless girl who is now the poster child of the Iranian protest movement.
Once upon a time in a less-than-idyllic age, authoritarian regimes could simply snip a few phone lines, and block a couple of foreign interlopers from their sites, but that time has passed. The advent of modern technology has changed the way people operate, and made it that much more difficult for the system to suppress information. The public now has virtually (no pun intended) unlimited amounts of media from which to communicate, and no matter how many are blocked, more will appear.
Iran's attempts at pulling the wool over their citizen's eyes and their foibles and triumphs are being carefully observed and monitored. Minds that were once imprisoned are fighting for their rights to privacy and their rights to speak freely, and not have certain things concealed from them, especially injustice! Bob Dylan was right; the times they are a' changing.
There is one lesson the government in Iran is proving to be infallible. While they may be able to limit their own citizens from accessing and posting content on the Internet, they cannot stop anyone from outside their jurisdiction from doing so. People in America and other countries around the world are there to lend a helping hand (or proxy server) to these oppressed peoples, allowing them to remain heard and exercise their impromptu cameraman skills.
Almost three dozen governments around the world are known to actively monitor and censor their citizen's Internet access and web activity. China, Uzbekistan, and Cuba are on the list, but the recent winner has been Iran. Maybe soon they will have their own pithy headline, like "The Great Firewall of China." As the decades have progressed, Internet censorship is actually showing an increase in these countries, but it is a moot point. The censor can't win. All they can do is stall and frustrate. It's like a game of whack-a-mole; one medium is censored and another is reporting three minutes later.
This censorship has always been a tit for tat system. When the people have some sort of uprising, no matter how small in scale, the government gets nervous, thinking it is losing control. So they do some censoring, create a scene, and flex their muscles so the public is clear about who is in charge. Sometimes they do it as a pre-emptive measure as well. On the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, they actively blocked sites about a week before, so the public couldn't find a place to come together and start an e-riot.
Iran is actually very sophisticated in their Internet censorship. When countries first started doing this, it was very unstructured and easy to get around. People had no trouble defeating the censorship methods employed by the government and it was only a minor inconvenience, but it was the principle of the blocks that angered them. Now, in Iran the censoring is actually a complex infrastructure, with all Internet traffic squeezed through a sieve to find incriminating information. Although this stops the grassroots of the computer user community from surfing the web, the computer can get around these blocks with myriad tools. Being resourceful is the only way to defeat these injustices.
Because of those computer savvy and determined netizens, the Internet is rich with raw, uncut footage of the Iran protests, police brutality, and other crimes against the people. You can see the evidence of their actions on other forms of communication as well: news networks on T.V. eat this stuff up, and play it 24/7 with their world highlights. As was mentioned earlier, the censor cannot win. The Internet will always find a way to defeat the injustice and get the real news to the people who need it, and won't be stopped by the government crying "insubordination" or "treason" as someone tries to talk to friends on MySpace.
Although safe once they are on the Internet, in real life the risks are quite genuine for these amateur journalists. People taking pictures are often harassed and threatened, and their cameras confiscated, and they face the threat of being sent to jail. On June 12, when the controversial outcome of the Iranian election was announced, the country shut down text message servers for a time, which was the prime tool of communication that the protestors used, and so continues the endless game of whack-a-mole. The government knocked down mole #1, and out of slots #2 and #3came Twitter and Skype. Once the government finds a way to thwart this method of speak, the people can always go back to the archaic art of speech: all share a common vernacular, and word of mouth can spread like wildfire if the message is incendiary.
When the government is serious about getting something censored, and tired of the whack-a-mole game, they can employ professional companies. Even before the much anticipated election and its dubious outcome, the country of Iran was well-known for running a tight ship on the subject of sensitive matters. They have a great infrastructure for filtering and blocking that suppresses information that is considered harmful or slanderous by the government. Obviously, these companies don't condone or endorse government censorship or any sort of privacy invasion, but whistling to the tune of multi-million dollars, and they will do anything. This was empirically proven when Iran brought in big names Siemens and Nokia to help engineer an impregnable wall that had no loopholes for their citizens to utilize and bypass their security checks.
Although some are scared into submission by their repressive government, many are just determined to circumvent the measures taken by their rulers, for there are always loopholes. Many of these headstrong Iranians have utilized proxy servers, which can help these illicit surfers remain anonymous while browsing, and allow these incognito citizens the freedom of avoiding being tracked while online.
In exchange for the small tradeoff of a slight performance reduction in their browsing speed, these Iranians can surf any site they want without being blocked. Tor, a volunteer run proxy server, reports that Internet traffic using their servers to surf anonymously from Iran has shot through the roof, when the censorship has been heavily deployed and is breathing down every civilian's neck. There is hope! Some people will not put up with this injustice, and will fight and be resourceful in finding ways around it.
These despotic tyrants hope to completely sequester their countries from the rest of the world, so no one knows what is going on within their borders, and the citizens don't know what they are missing on the outside. They also want to eliminate any website or document that would hurt their ideology at all. This simply cannot be done in today's world; the genie is out of the bottle. The people know better, and they are not going to take it.
Some governments are trying harder than ever to censor and strip their citizens of their freedom and privacy rights. China is a real over-achiever when it comes to this. They should be awarded a big medal for all of the work they put in keeping their people shielded from the rest of the world, and completely shut off. Isolationism can only work for so long. You can feel the rumble every time you log onto a news site, or view a shaky hand-held camera video from a persecuted Iranian. It's getting more intense, and the feeling is becoming more palpable every day; even the government is perturbed by the vibrations.
It is an earthquake, slowly emerging, but every time the tremors die down, the racket grows as another program infiltrates their defenses. The people can feel it, and they are fueling it. It is an earthquake, not to destroy and hurt, but to knock down the monolithic skyscrapers that bar the public and infringe on their privacy and freedom rights. It's growing, and the authoritarian governments had better check their Richter scales and, however grudgingly pursue change before it's too late. Bob Dylan may have been an idyllic flower child, but he was also a soothsayer of his day, and his words ring as true as they did back in the summer of '69, the summer of purple haze, psychedelics; peace, love and rock n' roll: "There's a battle outside and it's raging'... It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times: they are a changing."