"Mapping Iran's Online Public"

For the last few months, my colleagues Bruce Etling and John Kelly at the Internet & Democracy project at Harvard's Berkman Center have been doing cutting-edge research to understand the Persian-language blogosphere. Yesterday, their report, "Mapping Iran’s Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere", was released and covered in Sunday's New York Times.

A snapshot of the Iranian blogosphere. For larger image, click here.

To me, there are three reasons this kind of work is fascinating:

First, it recognizes that the internet is a public space that is worth investigating to understand wide-ranging segments of society, including pro-democracy groups, youth and terrorists. This study on Iran is currently one of three narrative case studies on the effect of internet on democracy and civil society (blatant self-promotion: I wrote one of these cases, entitled "The Role of Digital-Networked Technology in Ukraine's Orange Revolution").

Second, the case is a great myth-buster. For some time, it has been taken as received wisdom that the Iranian blogosphere is dominated by young pro-Western activists rearing to overthrow the regime. This case proves that the Iranian blogosphere is a far more nuanced space, shared by religious and secular points of view, as well as poetry and pop culture.

Third, this case is great experiment in using quantitative tools to understand the internet as a public space. This case uses a proprietary social network analysis (SNA) algorithm developed by our colleague John Kelly at Morningside Analytics. Like any quant tool, it has its advantages and limits, but its a fantastic first step for mapping Iran's public online space.

Check out this case here.



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