Social Media Can Accelerate Demonstrations, Researcher Says

"Mobile communications play a major role in demonstrations, especially in authoritarian regimes, when messages about protests are spread", Turo Uskali says.

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Uskali is a professor at University of Jyväskilä and researcher at ViSmedia. He was recently interviewed about social media's role in Iranian demonstrations.

"The activists were active before social media, but social criticism is now more visible and the processes accelerate, as like-minded people are more easily contacted", Uskali says.

Growing use, restricted access

In 2009, just under a fifth of Iranians had smart phone. Today, this number has grown to ablot half of Iran's population, or 48 millions, according tp TechRasa. 

Iran has denied access to Facebook and Youtube since the 2009 protests, but services are being used as detours, the article in Yle says. Social media, for example, accelerated Tunisian social change in Arab countries in 2011.

"Modern technology makes it possible to limit services, but also bypass restrictions. It is a cat-mouse play, in the case of Iran, between demonstrators and authorities, Turo Uskali explains.

Telegram, a messaging app that is widely used in Iran, has been blocked since 31 December i Iran. At the same time, Internet access has been sporadically cut off to several cities where protests have taken place, according to cybersecurity researchers monitoring internet activity in the country. Access to other social media platforms like Instagram has also been intermittent.

"When new services are introduced, authorities do not always keep up with development", Uskali says.

Social Media--a power struggle

Uskali believes Iran is one example of the power struggle between the authorities and the new media. It's about who, what and where to talk. However, he recognises that social media is only one of many tools of communication.