Cries for Help from Iranian Web Activists Go Unheeded

Iran has the highest rate of Internet penetration in the Middle East. According to the World Bank, almost 39% of the Iranian people have access. There have been many independent blogs, and recently a successful satire show on VOAPNN called Parazit announced that its Facebook page passed a half-million fans.

The best way to help Iranian activists is to provide technical help to get around the government’s Internet filtering. Despite several requests for access to Anonymizer software, the U.S. government has not done so. Yet this leaves the activists helpless and severely weakens the democratic opposition. Why is the value of social media so underestimated in regard to Iran when the same facilities are interpreted as having been so hugely important in challenging regimes in the Arabic-speaking world?

For the U.S. government, helping Iranian activists circumvent government social media controls is a cheap and no-risk way to promote democracy and battle a hostile regime. There are other ways in which computer hardware can be sent into Iran and communications among Iranians strengthened outside the government’s censorship controls.

With so much rhetoric from Washington nowadays about promoting democracy and helping moderate dissidents, how can refusing to do the bare minimum in the cyberspace competition be justified?