When a state wants a certain message to be provided to its population; it normally instructs to top down communication media; the newspapers, television and radio stations, to reflect that view. With networked communications, this control does not exist. As such, the only other option is to try to hunt down and intimidate those major nodes within the network or shut the network down altogether.
In the case of Iranian election protests of mid 2009; we saw the first beginnings of Social Media as a tool used by the population and opposition of the state to try to affect change in that state. After the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, discussion on the illegality of the election began to spread around Iran and the world on various blogs and minor publications. Soon these turned to protests online which lead to protest in the streets. The Iranian government did as one would expect, instruct the state controlled media outlets to dismiss the protests as outside agitators and criminals, arrest those they believe to be the leaders of the protests and cut off the phones lines of any supporters. But they did not cut off access to social media via the internet and text message. The protest continued to grow and become more organized. Sometimes nicknamed the Twitter Revolution, because of the protesters reliance on mobile phones and Twitter to communicate; and also the first time a major government realized that social network communications are a very real threat to their ability to maintain control over their population.
Once the authorities realized the threat of networked communications; they started to shut it down, first blocking web sites and email. However Iran is a highly computer literate country with plenty of hackers in conjunction with hackers and coders from around the world working to counter these measures including attached Mahmoud web site through DDoS attacks. At one point the only reliable traffic was through Twitter and cell phone. So important was this traffic that the US ask Twitter not to perform a service upgrade during the protests. Many bloggers, myself included, would rebroadcast IP proxies to allow the Iranians to get around the website blockade. I even created a small php script that will perform 3 separate Twitter searches and remove the duplicates to help people filter through the deluge of Twitter messages that were generated around the crisis. Its basically a game of cat and mouse between the computer and socmed community and Iran.
In the end, the Iranian regime was successful in quelling the uprising through a combination of shutting down universities, blocking web sites, and blocking cell phone service in conjunction with more conventional tactics of misinformation, force, promises of investigations, and counter rallies. But is not where the story ends..
End Part 1. Read Part II here.