Is today’s information technology a revolutionary force or the opiate of the people? The verdict is mixed in the Middle East uprisings:
Two years ago, Iranian activists used social media sites as engines to organize massive anti-government demonstrations. But now, activists say, the limitless freedoms available online are proving to be a distraction from real-world dissent.
Instead of marching in the streets, the same doctors, artists and students who led the demonstrations in 2009 are playing Internet games such as FarmVille, peeking at remarkably candid photographs posted online by friends and confining their political debates to social media sites such as Facebook, where dissent has proved less risky.
Online, Iranians now brazenly show the parts of their lives that they used to keep secret from the state and others. Pictures of illegal underground parties, platinum blond girls without headscarves and couples frolicking on the holiday beaches of Turkey, are all over Iranian social media.
In 2009, Iranians used social media to coordinate protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested election victory. Now, some activists say online tools are becoming a distraction from real-world dissent.
“We have become couch rebels, avoiding the dangers that real changes bring,” said a 39-old Iranian artist who spends most days juggling between two laptops and 1,300 online friends. “Our world online is like an endless party with no rules, and that keeps us very busy.”
The artist insisted that she be identified only by her first name, Jinoos, to avoid government retaliation. She said she had attended a demonstration in February but, on returning home, found that all of her friends had remained online, posting news about the protest from the safety of their homes.