This week, Talking Points Memo is convening a discussion of Eric Boehlert’s new book, "Bloggers on the Bus", about American political bloggers and the 2008 presidential campaign. I wrote a post briefly comparing the role of political blogs in the U.S. and Iran, and arguing that Eric’s depiction of American surveillance politics underplayed how blog protests were positioned in broader networks. The post — which may disappoint some of the techno-skeptics in our Nation comment section — is below.
This is an auspicious time to discuss Eric’s book on networked politics — you can’t scan Google News without coming across reports of how blogs, Twitter and cell phones are channeling political protest in Iran. Tuesday’s New York Times, for example, reports on how the Iranian government’s repression has focused on technology.
The crackdown on communications began on election day, when text-messaging services were shut down in what opposition supporters said was an attempt to block one of their most important organizing tools. Over the weekend, cellphone transmissions and access to Facebook and some other Web sites were also blocked. Iranians continued to report on Monday that they could not send text messages.
But it appears they are finding ways around Big Brother. Many Twitter users have been sharing ways to evade government snooping, such as programming their Web browsers to contact a proxy — or an Internet server that relays their connection through another country.
The technology only matters, of course, because there are so many like-minded people trying to communicate with each other and build political power. Now Iran’s heated protests and surreptitious tweets may seem like a long way from the American political bloggers that Eric profiles. But Iran’s current new media activity is working partly because online political networks were already in place, primed by an active blogosphere that favors Mousavi. (A Harvard study on election eve tells the story in colorful clusters.)