Commentary: Iran's regime threatened by free 'press'

Iran has long been hostile to a free press, knowing that it can better control its citizens if they don't have access to news and information that doesn't go through government censors. It's part of living in an oppressive society. A third of the world's population live in nondemocratic states that don't allow a free press.

That makes it impossible for citizens to know what their government is doing. They get a diet of propaganda that is designed to keep government leaders in power and the citizenry in the dark.

But even as the media have been controlled in Iran, citizens seeking freedom look for ways to communicate freely. The election protests in Tehran were organized around information technology breakthroughs. This technology has made it much more difficult for the regime to control people's access to information.

Iranians have made use of cell phone calls, text messages, e-mails and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to organize protests. They can't provide the outside world with information through the media, but they allow Iranians to communicate with each other and to organize dissent.

The world first saw the effect of Western communication technology in the revolutions in the Soviet-bloc countries of Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s.

In Iran, a relatively prosperous and highly computer-literate society, the government has blocked Web sites (including Twitter.com), and cell phone service has been intermittent. But people have been incredibly enterprising.

San Francisco-based Twitter has been particularly censorship-resistant because it is an open system. Multiple paths can read and write the Twitter data stream. Twitter users can send text messages (limited to 140 characters) to unlimited numbers of cell phones.

Twitterers post messages with the term "#IranElection," so people can easily follow the stream.

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