Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How Iran's Hackers Killed Big Brother by Douglas Rushkoff

How Iran's Hackers Killed Big Brother

by Douglas Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff, a professor of media studies at The New School University and producer and correspondent for the PBS Frontline Digital Nation project, is the author of numerous books, including Cyberia, ScreenAgers, Media Virus, and, most recently, Life Inc., released this month by Random House.

Douglas Rushkoff
BS Top - Rushkoff Iran Twitter Burhan Ozbilici / AP Photo Tehran's streets may be bloody, says Douglas Rushkoff, but the opposition has won the digital war. The battleground: Facebook and Twitter. The weapons: bandwidth and hacking. The prize: the end of totalitarianism.

Perhaps the best indication for Americans that something important is going on in Iran right now is the fact that Twitter has delayed a scheduled downtime for maintenance in order for Iranians and others involved in the post-election digital melee to keep at it. For anyone lacking a Twitter feed and thus missing the intense virtual crossfire, what's happening is nothing short of a test of Internet users' ability to challenge not only a regime's power over an election, but over the network itself. The effort alone constitutes a victory.

Unlike the United States, where Facebook friends, Meetup groups, and other online innovation successfully elected a candidate who (at least initially) lacked top-down support, the Iranian power structure has less compunction about snuffing digital democracy. Incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is widely believed to have shut down Iranian access to Facebook as soon as it was clear his opponent's supporters were using the social network to organize rallies and motivate voters. Not that Mousavi's 36,000 Facebook friends at that point would have led to the undeniable landslide the opposition leader would have needed to actually win—but the heavy-handed gesture hinted at what was to come. It was the opening salvo in a digital war with global implications, and a blueprint for the democratizing influence of the Internet.

Iran's government counter-attacked with a blockade, closing off the four Internet access routes it controlled, leaving just one pipe through Turkey for messages to breach it.


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