"Information, not guns will bring down dictators," said Saman Arbabi, the co-creator of the most successful satirical show in Persian.
In the highly turbulent world of the Middle East, social media has been playing an extremely significant role in raising awareness and inciting change. Social media has been credited as central in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring.
It has been argued that the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor who was mistreated by police for protesting, triggered the Tunisian revolution, and what ultimately came to be known as the Arab Spring. They spread the tragedy using social media. Twitter was utilized to spread the news instantly and to connect with others who were also suffering at the hands of their dictators. This incident resulted in a wave of massive demonstrations advocating for freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East.
In March 2012, Invisible Children received worldwide attention due to their Kony 2012 campaign. Even though the campaign received criticisms after it was launched, it speaks to the power of social media. This video went viral within days and currently has over 91 million viewers on YouTube.
However, most countries are not pleased with the universal access of the Internet, and ultimately information. Dictators are more worried about their people gaining consciousness of their own oppression as opposed to international intervention. The Chinese government is fully aware of this and is creating their own Intranet to stifle Internet dissent. This will give its citizens access to filtered Internet. Anything that the government sees as inappropriate will be restricted in China.
Similarly, Iran is pursuing a closed national Intranet which will insulate itself from outside information while only giving its citizens government-issued propaganda. However, Iran lies behind the Chinese in terms of this technology. This past May, an ironic twist of events marked the censorship situation in Iran, whereby a fatwa against anti-filter software released by Ayatollah Khamenei was itself subject to government filter. The limitations of Iran's system are obvious, and their efforts to model themselves after the Chinese must be circumvented. This is where the international community must speak up and against this.
"Internet is like oxygen. It should be a right not a privilege. Your brain needs information to survive," says Arbabi. In this day and age, knowledge is everything. Socrates put it best when he said, "a life without examination is not worth living."
Arbabi used his influence and success with the widely watched show Parazit to launch his new campaign: Weapons of Mouse Destruction. Working with artists like Shepherd Fairy, and JR, the campaign uses art to fight countries that cut off their population's Internet access. Their mandate is to "destroy censorship one mouse at a time."
The use of new media is providing citizens with weapons to spearhead a movement not only in cyber space, but in the physical space of streets as well. The Internet is a powerful political tool that should not be controlled by governments. The international community needs to hold corporations like Google and Yahoo accountable.
Google used to follow everything the Chinese government wanted in the name of money. In 2010, they pulled the plug and left partly because they were no longer willing to censor searches. However, Yahoo has now replaced Google. The international community needs to put pressure on corporations to be ethical on humanitarian causes. This is the only way information will be unfiltered. The more people learn how oppressed they are, the more likely it is that they will want to do something about it. We saw this during the Arab Spring that led to the overthrow of several regimes. Similarly if Iranians are equipped with knowledge, they will have the tools to fight their regimes for change.
Follow Mahsa Alimardani on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@maasalan