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Iran: The use and limitations of ICTs in democratic protests

Since Rheingold wrote of Smart Mobs, activists have been atwitter about the potential of mobile phones and texting to effect democratic change. The ongoing struggle against the theocratic dictatorship in Iran has given many examples. But it also shows the limits. When the government shuts down the SMS system, or indeed the whole network, what happens to mobile based organizing? What are the conditions for the government not shutting down networks?

The silent march was a deliberate and striking contrast to the chaos of the past few days, when riot police officers sprayed tear gas and wielded clubs to disperse scattered bands of angry and frightened young people. When the occasional shout or chant went up, the crowd quickly hushed it, and some held up signs with the word silence.

“These people are not seeking a revolution,” said Ali Reza, a young actor in a brown T-shirt who stood for a moment watching on the rally’s sidelines. “We don’t want this regime to fall. We want our votes to be counted, because we want reforms, we want kindness, we want friendship with the world.”

Mr. Moussavi, who had called for the rally on Sunday but never received official permission for it, joined the crowd, as did Mohammad Khatami, the reformist former president. But the crowd was so vast, and communications had been so sporadic — the authorities have cut off phone and text-messaging services repeatedly in recent days — that many marchers seemed unaware they were there.

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