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Iran Continues to Tighten Control Over Internet, Media

This New York Times piece nicely summarizes recent moves by the Iranian regime and the Revolutionary Guards to further clamp down on Iran’s already tightly controlled information space. The Times argues that the government is stepping up its ‘soft war’ in order to “re-educate Iran’s mostly young and restive population” by:

…implanting 6,000 Basij militia centers in elementary schools across Iran to promote the ideals of the Islamic Revolution, and it has created a new police unit to sweep the Internet for dissident voices. A company affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards acquired a majority share in the nation’s telecommunications monopoly this year, giving the Guards de facto control of Iran’s land lines, Internet providers and two cellphone companies. And in the spring, the Revolutionary Guards plan to open a news agency with print, photo and television elements.

As the article notes, these efforts to fight a ‘soft war’ seems to indicate the growing influence of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, which some, like Abbas Milani, argue are more powerful than even the Supreme Leader.

In the end, however, these moves may be futile. The ‘police unit’ to monitor the Internet has only 12 people. Satellite TV has been illegal for years in Iran, and yet by the regime’s own account 40% of households have access to it, twice as many as last year. There are occasional crack downs that try to clear satellite dishes from everyone’s rooftop, but they always go back up eventually. And finally, as NYU’s Mehrzad Boroujerdi says:

By trying to gain more control of the media, to re-Islamize schools, they think they can make a comeback. But the enemy here is Iran’s demographics. The Iranian population is overwhelmingly literate and young, and previous efforts to reinstall orthodoxy have only exacerbated cleavages between citizens and the state.

Yandex on the Russian Blogosphere

The wildly popularly Russian search engine Yandex has released another useful report on the Russian blogosphere based on its search data. While it is nearly silent on methods, it is nonetheless helpful to have another data point out there on the Russian blogosphere, which we’ve also been digging into at the Berkman Center following our Iranian and Arabic blogosphere research. Yandex finds the following on the Russian blogosphere (pdf), as of spring 2009:

The ‘average’ Russian blogger is a 22 year old woman who lives in Moscow and posts on LiveInternet or (this is the first blogosphere we’ve looked at in detail where female bloggers are in the majority, and about 20% to 30% more females than we find in Middle Eastern blogospheres we’ve studied). Women write more often, and also comment more frequently on others’ blogs, than men in Russia.

LiveJournal, which we are focusing on at the moment, has the most active traditional bloggers in Russia, and this platform also hosts more men and older bloggers than the rest of the blogosphere. Seventy-six percent of active Russian blogs are hosted on just four blog services (LiveJournal,, and Liveinternet has the most blogs, but 96% have not been updated in the last three months.

ya_blogosphere_report_eng.pdf (page 3 of 9)

Russian bloggers are posting less often than in the past:

Active blogs (those with at least five entries and that have been
updated at least once in the past three months) continue to decrease –
currently totaling to 12 %. While two years ago every second blog was
getting regular updates, last year only one out of five blogs was regularly

Perhaps because they are to busy Twittering: Twitter has grown in popularity, as has the Jabber-based, but still there are only 7,000 Russian users according to Yandex. At 80%, its users post more frequently than any other traditional blog service, though.

London has the most active Russian bloggers outside of the former Soviet Union, followed by New York.

Unfortunately, the report doesn’t go into any topical or political issues that bloggers discuss, and they also recently decided to stop listing the most popular daily topics on their blog data site, perhaps to avoid the same fate as mainstream media in Russia. More Yandex research here (in English), although the Russian research page is much richer (I’ve got my eye on the Ukrainian blogosphere report next).

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