It’s not news anymore that use of the Internet and social media was a key factor in propelling the U.S. presidential campaign of Barack Obama. In fact, Obama was so successful with these tactics, and social media is now so ingrained in the lives of millions of Americans, that it would be inconceivable for a future campaign to not utilize these tools. Apparently, even other countries have taken notice, and not necessarily the nations you’d immediately think of in terms of politics and the Internet. Like Iran. But it’s true – the Iranian presidential election is taking place today and it has been significantly affected by the opposition party’s use of the Internet as an organizing tool.
The two main contenders in today’s election are the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a former prime minster, Mir Hossein Mousavi. A story in the Washington Post provides a look at how Mousavi’s camp has utilized social media during this election:
Over the weekend, a government organization refused permission for his campaign to use Tehran’s 120,000-seat Azadi Stadium for a rally originally planned for Sunday. But in less than 24 hours, using text messages and Facebook postings, thousands of Mousavi backers gathered along Vali-e Asr Avenue, Tehran’s 12-mile-long arterial road.
Many brought green ropes or strings, which they tied together to form a giant chain in Mousavi’s signature color. Groups wearing green head scarves or green T-shirts arrived from schools and universities. … “Thanks to Internet and text messages, we can rally big crowds in a very short time,” noted Ghadiri, who wore a green shirt emblazoned with Mousavi’s portrait.
A fascinating article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, meanwhile, took a broader look at how Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are changing the face of Iranian politics:
In Iran, where mosques once served as the primary campaign stump for political candidates, Facebook is changing the face of the presidential election. Nearly half of Iran’s 46 million eligible voters are under age 30, which means victory in Friday’s presidential election can be achieved only with significant support from young voters.
No candidate seems to understand this better than primary reformist challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who has become the country’s first politician to wield the power of the Internet as a major campaign tool. To reach out to Iran’s youth, he created a page on the popular networking site Facebook, which as of yesterday had garnered more than 30,000 supporters. Mr. Mousavi also uses Twitter and has even launched his own YouTube channel.
“Reformists are using Facebook to bypass official state media, which explicitly or implicitly favors the current administration,” said Mehdi Semati, associate professor of communication at Eastern Illinois University and editor of the book “Media, Culture and Society in Iran.” …
“In some ways, you can compare it to the campaign of Mr. [Barack] Obama. A lot of it is grass roots,” Mr. Semati said. “Many student groups are organizing it.”
Will the reformists succeed in ushering in a new political era in Iran by capitalizing on the Internet? Stay tuned. We’ll know later today.