Facebook Creates Online Civil Society Clashes in Iran

There’s been lots of online activity in the run-up to the Iranian presidential election, which is coming up on June 12.

There’s a four-way election currently going on between the two main conservative candidates, including incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mohsen Rezaei, and the two reformist candidates, Mehdi Karroubi, and former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi (pictured).

Two weeks ago, Global Voices posted on the various channels of Ahmadinejad’s online support, including a new website, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page. Not surprisingly, the other candidates also have similar types of online media at their disposal.

However, yesterday, Iran blocked access to Facebook as a way to shut down their political rivals online.

The Washington Post reports:

“We used Facebook to be in direct contact with the voters,” said Saleh Behesti, 22, an industrial design student who helped organize the Internet campaign of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has mounted the most serious challenge to Ahmadinejad.

“We had 6,000 people on Facebook sending information on Mousavi’s speeches and meetings out to all their friends,” Behesti said. On Saturday, 20,000 people turned out for a Mousavi campaign rally in a Tehran stadium. “Without Facebook we would have never been able to gather so many people,” Behesti said.

Meanwhile, in a news conference today, President Ahmadinejad told CNN that he was not responsible for the ban and that he would “make an inquiry.”

Not surprisingly, the reformists are pretty upset, as they stand the most to gain from a Facebook campaign.

As Reuters notes:

Websites like Facebook have become an important campaign instrument for moderate candidates, particularly former premier Mirhossein Mousavi, who want to mobilize Iranian youth to vote out Ahmadinejad.

One Facebook page campaigning for Mousavi had more than 5,200 members.

Iran’s judiciary said last year more than five million websites were being blocked by authorities since they “inflict social, political, economic and moral damage, which is worrying.”

More than 150,000 of Iran’s population are Facebook members and young voters make up a huge bloc — which helped former reformist president Mohammad Khatami to win the election in 1997 and 2001. Khatami backs Mousavi’s candidacy.

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