Iranian activists use social media to demand justice, accountability


The public outcry over the rape and murder of six-year-old Afghan refugee Setayesh Ghoreishi (left) demonstrates how social media has allowed Iran’s civil society to hold accountable hardliners in the judiciary and other state bodies without directly challenging the regime, reports suggest:

Using social media to highlight social, economic or cultural issues also allows activists to avoid political activity that can carry considerable risk and has made little difference in recent years.

“Those people who were suppressed [for pro-democracy activities] are not dead and live under the city’s skin, [and] have created a vibrant information society,” said Hamid-Reza Jalaeipour, a reform-minded sociologist. “They react to anything that concerns them but are not covered by official media.” RSVP

In recent years, platforms such as Instagram and Facebook have become effective instruments for the mobilization of voter participation in Iranian elections, because they were already depoliticized by ordinary usage, notes Shervin Malekzadeh, a visiting assistant professor at Swarthmore College. Though a crucial component in the current reformist strategy to use the vote as a way to hold the line against the return of Ahmadinejad-style incompetence and radicalism, the recruitment of social media as part of the long march of incrementalism is hardly the stuff of revolutions, he writes for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage:

Of course, one might ask whether an app or any other corner of social media can be popular or powerful enough to correct a system with permanent, undemocratic features. It was always the dream of the neo-Tocquevillians that associational life would foster democratic souls, “the heart enlarged … by the reciprocal action of men upon one another,” as well as democracies that work by creating “strong, responsive, effective representative institutions.” Although that dream turned into the nightmare of a democracy deferred as many of the fragile governments that emerged out of the third and fourth waves curdled into competitive authoritarian states, or worse, faith remains that civil society and social media can act as instruments of progressive change.

On-line groups like Tavaana (left) have successfully used social media to train and educate millions of Iranian activists.

“Largely unnoticed outside of Iran and lacking the dramatics of large-scale protests, Iranians’ use of their tablets and smartphones to persuade each other — and themselves —  to participate in a deeply flawed electoral system nonetheless offers the best measure of citizenship and civil society in Iran today,” Malekzadeh contends.

In a neighborhood engulfed in turmoil, Iran has enjoyed relative political stability of late, the Carnegie Endowment adds:

But have the rifts between state and society been reconciled? Has Iranian civil society resigned itself to incremental change within the confines of the Islamic Republic? How has the role of women in Iranian civil society evolved? Who are the most important change agents in Iranian society and what are their ambitions and motivations? 

Please join Carnegie for an in-depth conversation on Iranian civil society, the role of women, and the future of Iran’s reform movement.

Masih Alinejad is an Iranian journalist and founder of the My Stealthy Freedom movement.

Nina Ansary is a historian and author of Jewels of Allah: The Untold Story of Women in Iran.

Karim Sadjadpour is a senior associate in the Carnegie Middle East Program.

Laura Secor is the author of Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times MagazineForeign Affairs, and other publications.

May 4, 2016 12.00pm-2.00pm RSVP



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