Iran's election goes online

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Iran Election 2009 page on Facebook

Voters in Iran go to the poles this month to choose their next president. Incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will square off against three challengers. One is a fellow conservative, the other two are moderates. The four candidates have their differences, but their campaigns have at least one thing in common: They all have their own websites, Facebook pages, and FriendFeed and Twitter accounts.

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On "The World," reporter Cyrus Farivar takes us online to follow the Iranian election.

Iran has more Internet users than any other Middle-Eastern country. So it's not surprising that Iran has been something of a crucible for political speech online. Back in 2003, the Islamic Republic became the first country in the world to arrest a blogger for his writings.

Shavrin Holdeh [PH] is an Iranian Political Science Doctoral student at the University of Manchester in Britain: "The battle for simple society in Iran is partly being waged in the cyber space."

He points to the fact that in just the past week or so, Iranian authorities blocked and then reinstated access to Facebook: "They have been trying to pick and choose between the type of media that they like within this broader media, but that is again to their detriment because whatever they put out people will find a way around it unless they completely shut down the Internet, which they don't want because they want people to go and look at the phony websites."

Ahmadinejad himself has a blog, a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account, and few semi-official campaign sites, including one called, "Dar Emtedad Mehr" or "Following Kindness." The site includes all the requisite shots of the president. He's even got a few YouTube videos which include songs like this one. [SONG PLAYING]

Ali Reza Ashrafi [PH] is an Iranian journalist and visiting scholar in journalism at the University of California, Berkley: "That's a very, very famous song among Iranians. And it belongs to the very beginning of a revolution that they started using this song. After 1997, it changed for students movements in universities and they used this song for promoting fighting and informants in that era. So now we're seeing that Ahmadinejad is trying to [take it back]."

Ahmandinejad's predecessor Mohammed Khatami allowed more press freedoms and civil liberties during his presidency. Hataneh has now thrown his support behind one of the reformist’s candidates, former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi; but both of the reformist’s candidates are trying to appeal to Iran's Internet users, says Ashrafi:

"For example, both candidates, Mir Mousavi and also Medhi Karoubi they are trying to increasing Internet speed in Iran if they got elected. They said that they are trying to decreasing the amount that you are paying every month for Internet, and they're trying to at last spreading the highest speed Internet among all Iranians."

Despite all the online buzz, some Iranian watchers don't believe they hype. Hamid Tehrani is the Iran Editor for Global Voices, a blog collective. He writes under a pseudonym.

Tehrani says that just because Ahmadinejad or Mousavi may have some Facebook fans doesn't necessarily mean that will translate into votes: "You should take into consideration that the number of supporters are not that important and can't have a very important impact on Iranian election. At best you can find 5, 7, 8,000 supporters on Facebook."

At this point, the race is too close to call, but in the last election Ahmadinejad pulled off a come-from-behind victory. The election is set for June 12th.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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