Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Now It's Iran's Turn to Restrict Freedom

Does it excite anyone else that a recent phenomenon of political text messaging in Iran is being described as "somewhat of a craze"?

Yahoo! News reports that people -- especially the young and cynical -- have been participating in loads of back-and-forth text messaging about the candidates in their upcoming presidential election, many of which have been "highly acerbic." Sounds like a sure sign that the country might actually be pulling off free and fair elections, right?

Not to Iran, it doesn't. One of the founding members of the rock ensemble Axis of Evil, the Persian nation has never really been considered a beacon of freedom and/or democracy. On this issue, it doesn't stray from expectations. Iranian officials have reportedly been tinkering with the idea of shutting down all SMS service over their messaging woes, and the nation's ultra-conservative judiciary has threatened to prosecute anyone who "denigrates" a candidate in their messages.

But, before we chalk this one up to another case of Iranian-Grade censorship, let's consider what is frightening the Iranian candidates. The text messages have picked particularly on the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, who will purportedly bring about apocalypse and the separation of men and women into different work days -- both accusations the candidate has denied (Yep, even the apocalypse one).

Herein lies one of the hidden features of SMS technology: easy smear campaigns. Imagine push polls made easier, faster and harder to track. We as political professionals need to be wary -- not necessarily of this technology, but of its possible Rovian misuse to spread lies about one's opponent. And while shutting down the system or prosecuting those who talk bad about a candidate might be just a tad over the top, what's there to prevent the "text-smearing" of the next rising political star?

2 comments:

Sarah Pearl said...

I wrote about this same article on my blog too! I do not think Iran's elections are a free and fair democratic process they claim to be. As long as the candidate is telling voters that if they text message something that smears him he "has their names and phone numbers," that would make me think twice before using freedom of speech to speak about a candidate. Free and fair? I don't think so!

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