School of Social Sciences – Brunel University

CO3100 - Communications Dissertation

Afshin Robin Rohani

To what extent can the ‘blogs’ of sympathisers and representatives of the Bahá’í Faith be seen as interactive channels of communication that report on the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran?

April, 2009 Student ID: 0529552 BSc Communication and Media Studies Dissertation Supervisor: Dr. Jason Hughes

Word Count: 16,459

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Abstract / This dissertation will demonstrate how the modern communication form of ‘blogging’ has been used by writers to highlight the issue of human rights. ‘Blogs’ are an aspect of online participatory culture and interactive communication channels have emerged from this platform. The case of Iran’s Baha’i community has been documented online; this independent world religion has some six million adherents worldwide, but is officially outlawed in the Islamic republic of Iran. This has been noted by various; academics, journalists and non-governmental organisations as an issue of social concern, what has uniquely been addressed in this research is the role blogs are playing as interactive channels reporting on the ongoing persecution of the Baha’i’s in Iran.

This is viewed from those who blog from outside of Iran, since the Middle East faces many restrictions on freedom of speech and authors can face censorship. As well as using an online survey to gain an understanding of an international but closely knit blogging community, a multi-method documentation of the individual dynamics of the posts of the Muslim Network for Bahá’í Rights blog has been implemented. This blog has promoted its cause since 2007 by using; collaborative blogging, viral videos, podcasts and comics. This research concludes that such a blog has effectively used innovative media to enhance its coverage of the persecution of members of the Bahá’í Faith.

Key Words /Blog /Baha’i/ Iran/ Human Rights/ Religious Persecution/ Online Interaction/ New Media/ Participatory culture/ Computer Mediated Communication/ Web 2.0

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Contents Page

Chapter 1
An introduction to Blogging and Bahá’ís……………..05

Chapter 2
Literature review………………………………………16

Chapter 3
Methodology……………..............................................30 The online survey……………………………………...35 Looking at a blog………………………………………40

Chapter 4
And the survey says?......................................................47 Inside the archive of a blog…………………………….54 Mapping interactions………………………………62 What does this all mean?................................................72

Chapter 5
Conclusions………………………………………80

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References
Journals………………………………………………….84 Bibliography…………………………………………….86 Websites…………………………………………………87

Appendices
Online survey……………………………………………90 E-mail permission……………………………………….93 Research blog……………………………………………94 Ethics…………………………………………………….94

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Chapter one
An introduction to Blogging and Bahá’ís:

As the Internet advances its presence in the modern-day culture of communication, societies are harnessing the potential of this networked technology to create a sense of collaboration when discussing the topic of human rights. Up until recently the Internet was not categorised into cycles of growth, though the coining of the term ‘Web 2.0’ has been branded as the next step in the Internet evolution. This by its very appointment has excluded everything preceding it which is now classified as ‘Web 1.0’; this can be understood as fairly static webpages which focus on publishing. ‘Web 2.0’ is taken to represent the advancements in websites that revolutionise participation (Flew: 2008).

The onset of the online weblog (which is essentially a diary) allows anyone with basic computer literacy and access to the Internet, to have a space to distribute their viewpoints on to an effective channel in terms of its interactivity. When referring to interactivity, the researcher views this as the level of participation in which people access blogs; to address a specific concern, attract others to discuss it, the use of a variety of multimedia and whether other channels report on the content. This is at the heart of the focus of this dissertation, which analyses the case study of the persecution of adherents of the Bahá’í Faith in Iran, an independent world religion.

This study will present and argue the shift from mass consumption, to the online ‘participatory culture’ that Internet ‘blogging’ brings (Jenkins et al: 2006). Specifically it will explore the weblogs dynamics as an interactive communication channel, and the

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patterns which emerge within the interactions of this medium by its users. The intended contribution of this study is to consider the practice of blogging and the affordances of this medium to open up engaging and valuable forms of communication:

“Across the world, online publics are forming via the Internet. In societies on one side of the digital divide, millions of bloggers come together around diverse topics, forming complex clusters. In societies on the other side, dozens or hundreds of bloggers form tighter communities, often in the face of censorship and conflict.”

(Kelly: 2009 – Keynote address Re-Publica Conference, Berlin)

The Iranian resistance towards the Bahá’í Faith is a current topic of interest in the international blogging community, which tends to lean towards ‘the other side’ of the digital divide. In this instance a religious minority with little freedom in Iran, has found it self to attract a community of outsiders which voice their views online. The extent of this coverage will be determined by unravelling the production of the contents of blog posts about the Bahá’ís mistreatment. The main course of study will be assessing blogs as a medium of civic expression which tries to connect audiences to content, this will be undertaken through analysing the archive of a key blog operated by ‘The Mideast Youth Network’ called the ‘Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights’ (www.bahairights.org referred to hereafter as MNBR) and the interactions it has with other agencies and individuals who report on the human rights situation of the Bahá’ís in Iran. This

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research can be further justified according to a recent article written by the founder of the MNBR’s blog Esra'a al-Shafei, published by the non-profit news organisation ‘The Media Line’:

“The Muslim Network of Baha'i Rights was founded is an effort to address and challenge the discrimination that Baha'is have to suffer under the supposed banner of Islam…It is to our advantage that increasingly more people rely on the Internet for news instead of traditional media, which in much of the Middle East is heavily censored…our successful utilization of creative media in order to raise awareness about the abuse perpetrated against the Baha'i minority in the Middle East, has encouraged others in to taking action.” (Al-Shafei: 2008: Online)

In the extract about the motivations of the MNBR, the academic issues are clearly identified as; discrimination, censorship, civic engagement and new media. Such pressing points will be looked at in relation to the MNBR. To begin with, discrimination of any kind is a popular topic when analysing types of media to determine if it offers a fair representation of a certain social group, this is usually applied to traditional media such as the printed press or television (see the work of the Glasgow Media Group). These established media outlets have long faced struggles over censorship in authoritarian societies; this had previously meant that there was little room for any kind of collective action within the public sphere, to firstly be able to congregate to formulate their ideas and secondly distribute them to gain appeal that

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would reach far and wide. Now with the onset of blogs and other flexible and freely distributed media, avenues are created that allow people the enticing opportunity to address their societal concerns online.

It is necessary to unpack the global Internet movement of blogging to make sense of it, a web log or a ‘blog’ as it is commonly referred to, can be likened to an online diary where an individual’s views are published reverse chronologically in the form of ‘posts’, the blog has been an emerging Computer-Mediated Communication (referred to hereafter as CMC) tool since 1999 till present (Dean: 2005). Usually blogs serve as a device for a writer to compile various musings found in cyberspace that form logs, these can be updated instantaneously making it more dynamic then traditional websites (Jenkins: 2006).

Within the timeline of Internet developments, blogs can be identified as a precursor to the ‘Web 2.0’ computer age, this is a term that refers to a new wave of; business, information and social networking sites that enable society to use innovative online media to gain a participatory understanding of an interconnected world. One of blogging’s main features in relation to this is that it has allowed users to engage with content in a dynamic way; such as posting comments, tagging topics and subscribing to content, this new web culture is now an established practice among the majority of Internet users (Beer & Burrows: 2007).

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Many; businesses, educational institutions, and non-governmental organisations tend to set up blogs designed to communicate their agenda to masses of people, having said this it is more accurate to point out that the individual personal blogger is the most prevalent creator of blogs discussing; travel, relationship, food and entertainment stories among many others. This on the onset presents certain challenges to a study which tries to extract more gripping commentary found on blogs, when on the surface they appear to be outnumbered by mediocrity. This will be challenged by adapting a research approach which aims to identify and assess the occurrence of blogs which promote public discourse in great detail, within their own environment.

When considering the longevity of blogging, it has been recorded that a single blog is created every second according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC Online: 2005), this statistic sparks a debate to the uniqueness of the blog and its interactivity in delivering content. Whether or not the trend will be maintained as ‘Wired Magazine’ predicts (Boutin:2008) this pattern in Internet user behaviour of generating and subscribing to citizen journalism is an important occurrence, which relies on a rich network of communication channels that users actively engage with. When looking at the information in blogs, it can reveal trends in to what topics are being discussed online and offer an insight to whether the subject matter is increasing or declining over time (Seshasai:2008).

As of late 2008 ‘Blog Pulse’, a website which measures blog activity, ranked the keyword search for ‘Baha’i’ on the Internet, to amount to 0.0060% of online

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occurrences in the blogs it lists. This percentage seems miniscule in terms of the depth of the World Wide Web, though the significance is not in its proportion, but in its emergence in to the public sphere as a topic of discourse through new media communities. In figure 1.1 ‘Blogscope.net’ highlights recent trends in the Bahá’í blogosphere, noting how in the middle of December there is a red peak or ‘burst’ in coverage, this research attributes this to the work of Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi which was a major news story concerning the Bahá’ís of Iran (see results section).

(Fig 1.1)

The mass media in certain states in the Middle East have little freedom for independent journalism as news stories face many restrictions, a handful of bloggers (in Internet numbers) are moulding identities and values which aim to show a level of organic

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social solidarity (Ernest on Durkheim: 2007) against the status quo. Rather then having to rely on what is considered ‘newsworthy’ by an established practice of broadcasting, bloggers create their own agenda to blog about, the strengths of such autonomy are in the writer’s ability to easily contextualise various; facts, information, articles and personal opinion in the sources they use to form one single entry (Blood: 2002).

The combination of sources and immediacy of news reporting found in blogs is unique, especially in picking up current and developing stories, when often it features a merging of links to mainstream media content, with the perhaps more engaging and noteworthy personal viewpoint. Whether people are creating; text, video or photo focused blogs, these platforms are designed to allow an easy flow of information across the Internet (Wynants: 2006).

It is necessary to turn to the case study this work will be examining; to do this one must understand the Bahá’í Faith historically, and its links to the culture of the Iranian blogosphere. In the Islamic republic of Iran a theocratic government is in power that in part is responsible for causing freedom of speech to be diluted by heavy censorship and restrictions on personal liberty (Parsa: 2008). It is not unforeseen; nevertheless it is significant that within this environment people have turned to online technology, in particular Farsi and even English language (USA Today: 2007) blogs as a means of communicating their; political, economic, religious, personal and social viewpoints.

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With half of its seventy million population being under the age of twenty-five, Iran has increasingly become titled a ‘nation of bloggers’, at the time of writing it is the third largest country of bloggers (Aaron:2008). It is this vibrant backdrop of online activity that has informed this research where people are “using blogs as tools to fight oppression and gain access to some democratic qualities” (Parsa: 2008). Preferably research would be conducted within this community of bloggers in Iran, since this presents ethical issues around a sensitive topic and would be very time intensive. This study will tackle the content of the MNBR and largely ‘Westernised’ authors of English language blogs outside of Iran, who report on the situation of the Bahá’ís from their correspondence with mainly; Iranian bloggers, the Bahá’í International Community and human rights organisations.

The Bahá’í Faith is gradually being brought to the attention of academics who examine globalisation, with Foreign Policy Magazine listing it is as the second fastest growing religion in the world (Foreign Policy: 2007). Its founder Bahá’u’lláh was born in 1817 in Persia, he is considered by followers to have brought a revelation from God that asserts; humankind is spiritually one and advocates world peace (Encarta Dictionary). In theological terms the Bahá’í Faith recognises and reveres other religions such as: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. But the religion boldly claims that Bahá’u’lláh is the promised one of all ages and religious traditions. This Bahá’í belief can be seen by some clerics, to be in direct conflict with the majority of Muslims who interpret the Qur’an to state that it is the final chapter sent by God based on the reference “Muhammad is the seal of the prophets” (Quran: 33:40).

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Thus since the Bahá’í Faith was founded in Persia in 1844, teaching a belief system which fundamentally broke away with Islam, Iranian followers of the Bahá’í Faith previously – and presently face a heavy onslaught of persecution. This is mainly by members of the predominately Shi’a Muslim clergy and government of what is now geographically Iran. In terms of legislation the Iranian constitution recognises; Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism as legitimate religions (BBC Online: 2008). The Bahá’í who are the largest religious minority in the country estimated to be more then 300,000 (Cameron et al: 2008), claim to be discriminated against solely based on their religious convictions. Their belief in conjunction with the law at present subjects them to exist at a basic level with little civil rights, vulnerable to unequal treatment in; work, education, and everyday social life.

In a modern context, shortly after the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution (which now marks its 30th anniversary) and up until the present day, Bahá’ís have been the target of a more systematic campaign of coercion. This has ranged from; arbitrary arrests, state propaganda and most significantly a government lead strategy to deny higher education to university students (Closed Doors: 2005). At first, all Bahá’í children were excluded from schooling, but in the 1990’s, primary and secondary school children were allowed to re-enrol though this still at present leaves university students denied access to education (Cameron et al: 2008), a fundamental human right advocated by humanitarian groups such as Amnesty International (AI:2009).

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The European Union (Figel: 2005) has passed resolutions condemning Iran for its treatment of the Bahá’ís. The situation has been steadily worsening under the current presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose regime uses structural violence (Tomaselli: 1991) in an effort to suffocate their followers, such as passing official policy to secretly monitor all Bahá’í activities (One Country: 2006).

Often what is cited in defence by the Bahá’ís and their supporters is ‘Article 26’ of the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (1948) which states that everyone has a right to an education, as the 60th anniversary of the deceleration occurred in 2008 the notion of human rights is becoming a hot topic widely blogged, remixed and shared (Jenkins et al: 2006) within the different media of social networks. For example, the impact of online movements such as ‘Blog Action Day’, this is a socially conscious viral blog campaign, set up to raise awareness and to mobilise people to write about certain global issues such as ‘poverty’ or ‘climate change’. This initiative prompted a large chain of discussion, with the idea of humanitarian responsibility entering in to everyday blogging just as it is entering business settings under ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’. It is noted how even regular more passive users of media are being urged to consider the wider impact of their activities and their potential to communicate a message of hope (see Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign).

The situation regarding the right for equal human rights and public amenities regardless of one’s religious beliefs, has sparked a large amount of coverage worldwide in the press more significantly in the blogosphere, with representatives and sympathisers of

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the Bahá’ís rising to their defence. As this medium is deconstructed, this issue can reveal to what extent blog authors have contributed to raising the problem of human rights online when posts on this subject matter are created. Also it will present the ability to observe what impact this has had within online networks themselves, by writers choosing to communicate (what they deem to be meaningful) messages to audiences using the emerging interactive blog format. This will be argued as a computer mediated adjustment in user behaviour online.

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Chapter two
Literature Review:

Within the field of communication and media studies there is an emphasis on understanding whether or not ‘new media’ (information that is computerised) liberates or challenges civic engagement, and if it can play a role in social change. As the Internet evolves to provide seemingly world-embracing platforms of dialogue, this is presumed to be a new step in the history of media innovations. There is a lot of contention between those who share utopian views of the Internet, who see it transforming society, and individuals who view it rather as a natural consequence of shifts in human development (Livingstone: 1999).

In this contribution in to the culture of ‘blogs’, what is explored is not an attempt to choose a narrow path which either boasts of or disputes the merits of new media; rather it will take one instance of human rights online and assess its ability to engage audiences with its cause by evaluating the medium it uses for promoting its message. Having said this, this paper does regard blogs with a certain degree of optimism and envisions that the MNBR compliments online culture, though this issue remains open to any evidence in the research to suggest otherwise.

The democratisation of information that the Internet can potentially achieve is another feature in the new media debate, an American Website like Indy Media (1999) is a long established ‘Web 1.0’ website providing grassroots participatory journalism, this raises the point whether blogs have brought any real dramatic changes? Indy Media has

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decided not to utilise new media to enhance its presentation, and thus becomes increasingly overshadowed by blogs, and as a result it is not as groundbreaking as it was in the beginning. This can be attributed to their anti-establishment philosophy, thus contradicting with the commercial side of ‘Web 2.0’ communication that democracy goes hand in hand with. With the increased freedom that one can find online in individual and collective empowerment, some groups have used this as a threshold in to new media information forums, and have done so in a lively way. Such as those from the Middle East and the people who speak on behalf of their marginalised voices.

As large numbers of society converge upon the Internet to explore new avenues to reconnect their involvement in democratic practices, it emerges that today’s communication networks at a glance spiral towards extraordinary heights. As with all social phenomena this can’t be simply reduced to be isolated from other factors. It is then worth asking if real life communities are closer then they were in the past? And if they are nurturing the type of liberal mentality which goes hand in hand with collaborative social media? It does not take a great deal of expertise or time to find cases of injustice against human rights on the Internet or offline in an everyday setting, therefore this research asserts rather that there is a change in media experience nurturing more complex interactions between citizens, the affects of which are felt in real life.

The reality of this is that in blog focused research, related literature is often scattered in various disciplines and not fully tied to broader debates, unless as the previous work of

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researchers show blogging is deemed to reflect something highly politicised (presidential elections) or their uses as educational tools (by academics). In this study engaging with blogs that reveal more delicate issues require approaching them head on, which is exactly what this research will attempt to achieve in looking at a small portion of the sphere of minorities online. What can be seen from academia that relates to this study is that before the rise of new media authors such as Fernback and Thompson forewarned the dangers of computer dominated interactions, which would not only be exclusive but lure people into a false sense of expression. Similarly the usage of online CMC can be viewed to create a ‘fetish’ in ‘interpassivity’ i.e. a false sense of user interaction (Dean: 2005). Despite this gloomy outlook, studies by the Pew Internet Research Center have revealed how potentially freethinking this generation of youth can be:

“Bloggers… seek, adopt, appropriate, and invent ways to participate in cultural production.” (Rheingold: 2008:103)

Now it is difficult to see the permanence or a genuine benefit of this change presently when this ‘cultural production’ is quite abstract, and is constantly being redefined and reinvented as technology dictates. What this currently does show is how these active citizens with their perceived arena of hope, have launched themselves in to blogs, as they feel it gives them credible ways to express themselves formally and informally. Which is further made more attractive by the way blogs encourage the linking of content, which creates a sense of trust in blogs which help break down previous notions

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of production and consumption (Van House: 2004).

Much of the innovative changes in post-industrial societies (Bell 1973) in the latter part of the twentieth and early twenty-first century, have revolved around developments in computer technologies, which serve the ever demanding needs of an ‘information’ or ‘network society’ (Castells 1996). A period in which the commodity of information services shapes; cultural, political and economic forces, as production becomes increasingly immaterial in its outputs (Bell: 1973). Leading on from these contestable theories in the social sciences is the notion of globalisation (the merging of the local and global), which is commonly identified to be boosted by the communication networks formed through the Internet. Some have argued that partially because of the onset of new media, globalisation has in itself been perpetuated (Flew: 2002). Certainly McLuhan’s ‘global village’ (1962) was strikingly well envisioned given the period he wrote it in, as the current media landscape tries to on many levels unite countries through a common development in computer technology.

Blogs are becoming platforms for people who are not technical to share and engage with information online (Thelwall et al: 2005), in relation to civic engagement blogs also follow a model which suggests that the gathering of the social and political at such a high pace, has increased humanities perceptions of global responsibility (McLuhan: 1964). This literature review centrally explores the role of ‘Western’ bloggers who campaign for the human rights of the Baha'is of Iran, by taking a closer look at what bloggers situated outside of the country are saying about the Bahá’ís trials and how

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interactive this new media commentary is. At the centre of this is the belief that new media is affecting and creating a new global public sphere, epitomised by the blogosphere (Castells: 2007), this will be tested through unpacking interaction through unconventional research. In presenting an overview of the debates surrounding the intrinsic worth of blogging and the impact of their discourses, questions arise if they are credible news sources? And whether within this activity we are experiencing a push or pull factor in the progression of participation?

In tackling these questions they start to become clearer in contemporary studies, one can look at either end of the spectrum of this literature. This is grounded upon; such works as ‘Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World’ (2008) written by Don Tapscott, who launched a large study examining the new and largely positive youth Internet movement shaping social and political spheres. In contrast Andrew Keen’s pessimistic views in ‘The Cult of the Amateur’ (2007), sees new media taking regressive steps in the name of so called democratisation. These works investigated ‘open societies’ that is to say usage in democratic countries, much is still to be understood of behaviour in relation to the topics surrounding ‘closed societies’ (Mishra commenting on Cuplinskas: 2009).

The majority of Middle Eastern and Islamic populations which have been exposed to the Internet’s cutting edge technologies remain underexplored, and the significance and meanings for this are unaccounted for. The case of the Bahá’ís in Iran will be researched, with an emphasis on understanding the activity of bloggers within this area,

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which at a glance seems to be somewhat ‘virtually’ liberating to the group in question, through the networks of this emerging online culture:

“Networks are taking shared responsibility for the construction of vast accumulations of knowledge about themselves, each other, and the world.” (Jenkins et al: 2006)

This implies that networks such as blogs are channelling a diverse range of viewpoints, giving everyone a voice and some responsibility. With this in mind it must not be confused that blogs and even the socially ‘conscious’ blogs in question can be all praiseworthy, as in time it may be detrimental for the circumstances of the Bahá’í to be an ongoing online dialogue because of the credibility of blogs as a form of communication. Nevertheless the social occurrences of this CMC are alive and active and demand further analysis, especially in an environment where people in Iran are unfairly imprisoned for speaking out about religion and politics such as Hossein Derakshan (York: 2008).

When exploring literature within this area it can be seen that the significance of the role of the Internet in human rights is a developing phenomenon, which can serve as a means for activists and organisations to ‘obtain’ ‘communicate and ‘disseminate’ information. Although notable global barriers to this are issues of; information overload, I.T. literacy and censorship (Halpin and Hick: 2000). These are striking examples that question the extent of the coverage of any sort of human rights issue is

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communicated on the Internet, having said this, in light of what has emerged in recent years; it suggests that what we label as a ‘blog’ breaks some of these social barriers. Blogs can be seen as different societies individual response to the; information overload by their opportunity to publish ‘your own views’, while liberating literacy with translatable easy to start up podiums and tackling censorship with blogs being a response to media repression. Blogs have been proven to break many firewalls (a system which restricts Internet access), and have been known to have proxy servers funded by democratic governments (Parsa: 2008).

While blogs face obstacles in to the entry of human rights debates, Evgeny Morozov assertively sees them as a ‘new frontier’ in human rights, as she studied the case of Denis Denisov an activist from Belarus who was imprisoned unjustly while human rights organisations took little notice, but it was the online community which caused enough awareness to raise the bail money to release him. She draws attention to her findings which while narrowly focused, they are closely tied to the research question in this piece and suggest that “A blog with ten readers could potentially get human rights groups further in 2007 than a petition with one million signatures could in 1967.” (Morozov: 2007) This use of new media to disseminate news on human rights is a budding act and is illustrated in the case of reportage on the Bahá’ís, as highlighted in the introduction with the ongoing patterns in Iranian society and media in the Middle East, that paradoxically serve blogs to thrive in an environment of ideological subjugation and also in times of conflict.

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For example in the Israel and Lebanon war (2006) citizens turned to blogs so they could benefit to “… respond and interact almost instantaneously, use digital photographs, provide clips from TV reports, link to podcasts and make use of satellite mapping imagery.” (Metcalf: 2006: online) An instant method of reporting when Middle East news would be challenging to approach to publish the publics stories, especially in times of conflict when communication infrastructure is strained. Another contemporary instance is during the Mumbai terrorist attacks (2008); this highlights the swiftness of blogs while also complimenting blogging in the bigger picture of news. During this event citizens utilised the mobile micro blogging service ‘Twitter’ to report on their personal reactions to the terrorist’s activities as the drama unfolded, which even if unconfirmed on their own, as a network and as a point of reference beside the mass media they took on a role within themselves.

One must also take in to account how this technology can be abused on the flipside to aid the communications of radical groups and the influx of ‘cyber terrorism’ (Debrix: 2001), the British Broadcasting Corporation justified their use of Twitter in Mumbai on the grounds that “These accounts move more quickly and include a wider array of perspectives and sources, not all verified by us, but all attributed, so that in effect we leave some of the weighing up of each bit of information and context to you”. (Herrmann: 2008: Online) Certainly this sense of empowerment to audiences is a key feature in the new media age, as a society which demands information, also wants to be contributors to content (Time Magazine’s YouTube cover 2006). Dan Gillmor who represents the ‘Center for Citizen Media’, an online initiative used to

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encourage citizen media and foster further initiatives welcomes Tapscott’s words. For Tapscott the underlying aspect is that audiences are interacting with blogs in collaborative ways, which contribute to the richness of the media, and while they are not a substitute to real life discussions they certainly emulate them and our creating a sense of self-directed experience rivalling previous passive ‘couch potato’ culture (Tapscott: 2008). It can be noted that some of the subject matter in the dialogue which takes place on blogs are; personal views seen as subjective or even offensive. Though this does not demoralise the important social issues that are being raised in various blogs that demand an insight in to the communication of this media, in fact in the case of the bloggers of Iran, when people just have a free channel to express their personal views, it is in itself liberating against a government which would oppose the opportunity to publish such views in the first place (Parsa: 2008).

Rebecca Blood is an author who is cited greatly within the subject of the uses of blogs, and promotes their practical use as media literacy tools, although she is realistic in distinguishing blogs from journalism, she still acknowledges their merits such as the fact that the views of marginalised voices flourish in the ‘blog universe’ (Blood:2002). The relatively new and ever evolving culture of communication which exists within the world of blogging contains numerous differing voices, of which on the one hand only a small portion offer credible and current commentary, on the other hand due to the nature of the interactivity of blogging, the impetus by the minority can spawn a large response picked up on by writers “… bloggers have demonstrated themselves as techno activists favouring not only democratic self-expression and networking, but also global

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media critique and journalistic socio-political intervention.”(Kahn and Kellner: 2004). This area of the power of minorities in blogs, has also received attention identifying why certain viewpoints find a space to be blogged about, such as the almost non existent financial capital that is needed to be able to start up a blog, as opposed to traditional media outlets (Fuchs: 2008).

Commentators on the Internet, who have reservations before jumping to major conclusions about new media, take the form of cynics towards the affects of the message of blogs. This is apparent with the mind state of Andrew Keen, who is ardently critical of the merging of audience and author in ‘Web 2.0’ networks, which is an aspect of how a weblog operates. Keen in ‘The Cult of the Amateur’ (2007) admonishes the sense of freedom users have felt from tuning to blogs as a news source, as the content which can be created by any individual can distort perceptions of reality. In 2007 around fifty three million blogs were created, Keen asserts that “Blogs have become so dizzyingly infinite that they’ve undermined our sense of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is imaginary” (Keen: 2007:3).

With this in mind he furthermore links the fact that most bloggers blog about ‘personal experience’ to highlight the potential for misinforming the world, as oppose to the mainstream media which produces articles made by professionals and editorial teams. In regards to the personal aspect of blogs and the amateur drive of new media, it is important to note their limitations, although in line with the research question it is the personal experiences which are comprised in blogs by many authors and various

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channels which form an evolving community. In the course of this research it will be argued that this is a forum which democratises and empowers users opening up the Internet; to audiences, to share thoughts and experiences in a unique way that they may not have been previously inclined to participate in (Deuze, 2003).

In addressing Keen and his views of the web that are shunned by many, a debate in ‘The Guardian Online’, ‘Andrew Keen v Emily Bell - Is today's internet killing our culture?’ (2007) gives ample insight in to the climate of the blogosphere, where he takes on the editor in chief of the Guardian Unlimited. Keen launches his arguments by stating that the Internet’s commercialisation of the duality of content overshadows the role of the mainstream media, and will cause more cultural inequalities then equalities (Keen: 2007), to which Bell points out that:

“…there are plenty of issues particularly around the investment in journalism, the quality of factual TV production, the challenging perspectives which no longer find their way into mainstream channels. But this is not the fault of the web, it is the collective failing of existing media.” (Bell: 2007: online)

This counterpoint shifts the blame away from the Internet’s role of ‘dumbing down’ culture, and places the blame at the existing media industries. It resonates with this research, though it does raise another consideration regarding what was the state of human rights online before the weblog? In regards to the Iranian Bahá’ís they have always been efficient in utilising what ever media they can to speak out against their

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suffering, this has meant steady public relations with; the printed press, television and radio broadcasters. This has helped communicate this issue abroad but certainly not within Iran or beyond any national coverage, as the Internet emerged so did the ability to transmit messages internationally giving news coverage more exposure and greater rapidity. This is now well grounded in the new frontier of blogging and the interactivity it brings. There seems to be a fairly balanced path in the literature between those; hinting towards the interactive side of the practice of blogging, which is distinguished from those who believe the affordances of blogs are exaggerated by academics, and see them rather as individualistic forms of self-expression (Herring: 2004).

It will be argued in this paper that blogs are an important part of user content online, and this aspect of new media has changed the public’s access and interaction to stories relating to the Bahá’í in Iran as different societies can be informed of an issue they might not have been aware of. Similarly the interactive way they can communicate with the issue, serves to liberate the dissemination of the message i.e. that the medium is the message (McLuhan: 1964).

Also this exploration will seek to present that blogs are an effective medium in communicating meaning due to their structure and format, these factors affect the ability of the content to spark interest to be read and distributed by users through ‘citizen media’ the merging of consumption and production in ‘prosumption’(Thrift: 2005). Blogs allow for the distribution of information to happen in new forms through their communication channels, for the Bahá’í in Iran the process of a story ending up on

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a blog and the relationships which feed in and out of the issue, create networks which encourage dialogue and are valuable in a commentary of new media dynamics, while also serving to benefit the coverage of this human rights scenario.

In conducting the research, it was decided that it will consist of primarily analysing the content of the blogs of sympathisers and representatives of the Bahá’í Faith and their dynamics as a source of information on the Bahá’ís in Iran. It emerged in the research planning stage that questionnaires, traditional surveys and interview techniques will not engage with the issues, as if they are used as the basis of the research outside the actual blogosphere, it will not be a measure of the medium at question. Also it will not be viable in terms of the research time frame practically, when participants are based outside of the United Kingdom. In adapting a mainly qualitative approach with a small level of quantifiable data which will interpret the flow of content on the blogs, the advantages are that this will allow an underpinning of the content of the research data in a meaningful way, which complements the nature of the online networks.

Conversely a completely quantitative method could help to statistically deconstruct blogs and measure the reach of their content, though in this way the social aspects of the academic question will not be tackled substantially. Due to the subjective nature of blogs, it is more practical to approach it from a qualitative mode of thought, which will produce results not completely impartial due to its framework, but will certainly aim to add another valuable contribution to understanding the nature and worth of new media and blogging, while homing in on the struggle of a marginalised voice in the Middle

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East.

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Chapter three
Methodology:

With the literature offering some broad debates in communications and some current talking points in new media, the same filters through to previous methodological approaches in this area, using these as a guideline a semi-experimental approach for this research was adopted. Given the spread and complexity of blogging, it's unfeasible to gain an overall picture with any degree of adequacy. Thus the strategy is to focus on just one unique blog, and to use sources that are current and relevant to that particular case. Where this study faces difficulties, is in its access to concrete studies which deal with unpicking qualitative information from blogs which deal with human rights, and how then to understand how interactive they are as a medium.

Methods such as content or semiotic analysis are challenging to apply to blogs and this research question, their usual generalisation of the sources of their texts cannot be applied to the blogosphere because of “…its size, diversity of content and variation in format.” (Tremayne: 2007: vii.). In Nicolas Hookway’s ‘Entering the blogosphere: some strategies for using blogs in social research’ (2008), an initial consideration of blog research is given which informed many of the methodological concerns. Hookway provides a comprehensive discussion on blog research and as a starting point to the development of a method for this research his discussions will be referred to.

Berger and Greenspan (2008) who analysed the blogs of mountain climbers to assess how technology impacted their activities, also found approaching the methodology of

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research in to blogs challenging especially in creating any datasets, though there remains some established attempts at opening up the area especially with a number of political blogs being the focus of research such as; Coleman (2005), Kerbel and Bloom (2005) and Borders (2005) who concisely addresses the academic background:

“Three concourses of research provide insight into blogging…First, there is the investigation of the blog as a social diary. Second, there is the analysis of blogs as organizing tools. Third, blogs are viewed as a form of civic, participatory journalism.” (Borders: 2005)

In addressing the research question the three issues mentioned by Borders will be touched on, specifically point two where blogs are organising tools and three their civic attributes. These couple of points will be addressed in full as the choice and construction of methods are discussed throughout this chapter, as an introduction the civic nature of blogs will be looked at by using an online survey and the organisation of content will be explored in the proprietary archival method. A recent study (2008) which aimed to create a picture of the Iranian blogging community titled ‘Mapping Iran’s Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere’ by John Kelly, trawled through countless sources to gain its data, this was then presented in images showing the various clusters of Iranian blogs grouped by their topics.

Through this rigorous and innovative method it was found that the Iranian blogosphere is a rich and complex space with many voices such as; conservatives (Ahmadinejad),

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reformist (Khatami) and minority cultures (such as Baha’is) see figure 1.2. Filtering and censoring was found across this range but blogs still flourished despite being hindered by the government. When observing a representation of the online community, certain keywords could be identified in the clusters, such as ‘Evin Prison’, which coincidently is a notorious detention center where Baha'is are known to be held for allegations such as spying for Israel (see results). Kelly’s work uncovered a networked media ecosystem, with inward links to bloggers, and outward links to other ‘Web 2.0’ websites (Kelly: 2008). For the research in Kelly’s study to gain such revealing data, as well as looking at the blogs in the public domain, it also required translators and personal contact with communities to bolster the research.

(Fig 1.2)

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In this paper such valuable and worthwhile links are hard to establish let alone maintain, rather an attempt is made to confront the investigation in a way which avoids relying on the relatively unknown spaces the actual bloggers in Iran face, by observing the activity of the growing ‘Western’ support of human rights supporters. Kelly makes a noteworthy attempt to address the channels and networks which blogs form and this has implications towards how interactive blogging communities are. While this study is insightful, it used long-term research and specialist software to produce its maps whereas the resources for this research are slightly limited. When creating similar visuals of interactivity, more simplified maps will be formed in the results of this research from a bottom-up perspective looking at individual activity, rather then a topdown approach which lumps everything in to categories.

The development of a method for investigating the activities on blogs that cover the Iranian Bahai community touches on available literature and relevant social science frameworks of research, amongst this some have argued that the body of literature on the ‘uses and impacts’ of blogs currently available is quite ‘considerable’ and that this evidence has suggested that most blogs that exist are of the personal diary nature (Schmidt: 2007). Though not in line with the core arguments of this research, this is true in some aspects, but the extent in which more socially ‘conscious’ dialogue is taking place should not be neglected as a result, and will be tested in the Bahá’í case.

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With this in mind, the bulk of this research entails an experimental documentary approach in investigating the archive of posts in the MNBR. This tackles the uniqueness of the blogging community as a communication medium by looking at it with a flexible documentation style in the applied method. Though to keep the research more academically sound a multi-method approach is used, by using the more established technique of a survey which was distributed online, this formed a way of gauging the current opinions of bloggers within the Bahá’í network who regularly blog about the persecution in Iran from their own position. Gaining first hand insights in to what motivates bloggers and to expand knowledge of the uses and applications of their blogs, this informed the choice of focusing on the MNBR blog, while also giving guidance for criteria to look for when researching it such as indicators of interactivity. In the following sections the methodology of the online survey and archive analysis will be touched on.

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The Online Survey: The survey has been traditionally used to gain a response from audiences when researching media output, with the use of face to face, postal or a telephone approach. Largely they can be used to explain or describe phenomena, such as the opinions and behaviour of a group of people on a specified topic e.g. assessing the general public’s view of a company’s brand after a recent advertising campaign (Gunter: 2000). Surveys are a peculiar research method as though people can hesitate to participate in them; they are often interested in what they can potentially reveal about themselves and can be enticed in to completing them. This is useful in this study, as bloggers passionate about human rights want to promote their cause. The advantages for the researcher are that they are; inexpensive, able to gain current information and can extract quantitative and qualitative data or a mixture (Berger: 2000).

A common theme with surveys is that the information that is sought might already be available from another survey, in this case understanding the behavior of the authors of blogs, was an area with little similar research available using this method. This was somewhat an opportunity to use a survey in a fairly new way, though the methods of postal and telephone approaches were inadequate for the goal, which was to have a short questionnaire sent to bloggers that would inform the researcher’s choice of a blog to focus on, this needed to be done with survey distribution which would collect results in a fairly quick time span.

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It was envisioned that contacting the main blog authors of blogs about the Bahá’í Faith, would help with identifying what factors affect the blog messages reach, to aid with documenting the MNBR’s archive, though this process initially seemed challenging. As contacting this group of worldwide campaigners by; telephone, post or even questions in e-mails was impractical. As the survey suffers from problems with; dishonesty, respondent mistakes, sampling and the ambiguity of questions (Berger: 2000).

It seemed like the online survey route was not only the approach with a good balance of advantages and disadvantages. It was relatively easy to use the contacts with; Bahá’í institutions, Facebook groups and ‘blogrolls’ (a set of blog links that a blog user likes) to compile an e-mail list to send the online survey hyperlink. As well as the benefits to research the Internet has in vastly eliminating time and costs, on the contrary it has also increased people’s perceptions of ‘junk’ content to account for any unsolicited communication on the web. While this was an issue the online survey approach “…benefits from using the Internet and it’s variety of well established software and Web hosts, which cater for survey creation and distribution.” (Ritter: 2007: xi). This gave the survey host ‘Free Online Surveys’ some integrity for first time visitors.

The goals identified for using the online survey method at the planning stage, were to understand the dynamics of blogs which cover the persecution of followers of the Bahá’í Faith in Iran, by gaining an insight from the actual blog authors themselves. Certain objectives which can be recognised with this topic which will form the basis of questions are; to assess why they started using the blog method? To verify what online

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tools they use to make their blogs engaging (interactive)? To determine whether they feel a sense of community? To identify where they turn to for their sources? Their own examples of people taking action as a result of their blogs? As well as, whether this form of communication encourages credible dialogue on the issue of human rights?

As an established practice surveys have a lot of literature on design, sampling, execution and analysis which was helpful, though the most informative was ‘Conducting Online Surveys’ by Lois. A. Ritter (2007), as entering research online in this niche area introduced more variables to take in to account. This ranged from how to motivate people to fill in a survey which was presented on a ‘Web 1.0’ site, and if they would feel comfortable about talking about their authorship of Bahá’í related material. These concerns were addressed in the design of a very welcoming survey which was forthright about the researcher’s work at the same time.

The demographics required for the survey were reflected on a particular practice of an individual, rather then their background, this helped with the sampling process as the response was representative of the closely knit Bahá’í blogging community, which based on correspondence with official sources, were easy to contact leading to a perceived research sample. Having said this, it is not without its concerns over circulation to the specific blogging community, however it could only work with what contacts were available, and in some instances bloggers were not approachable for their own safety and for the protection of the Baha'is.

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With the goals identified, the task of devising and testing the questionnaire was troublesome, as it was sent to an academic researcher to gain feedback, as oppose to giving it to an actual blogger who would resonate with the questions, but then miss an opportunity in the actual research. Constructing meaningful questions which were well thought out relied on relating to the purpose of implementing this method, which was to gain insider knowledge from the bloggers that wasn’t visible from independently interpreting their behavior. This caused questions to be largely qualitative with an openended response; there still were a few quantitative questions to establish patterns, and to set up some multiple choice question options to determine certain variables.

The presentation was very important, as the survey had to appeal to the bloggers as a genuine research project. Figure 1.3 shows the title page to the online survey with the header ‘Understanding blogs which cover the persecution of followers of the Bahá’í Faith in Iran’. It uses an image, summary of the project, a link to an ethical procedure form, contact details and a link to the researcher’s personal blog. All of which are devices attracting the bloggers to take part in the research (Ritter: 2007). Once a participant would scroll down from the title page, they would reach the sixteen questions (a full script is listed in the appendix) and as a result they would be agreeing to the terms and conditions of the research. Generally the creation of the survey online proved to be useful as modifications to the design of the page and crucially the questions was instantaneous. After the survey was launched it was agreed not to make any more amendments unless it was serious, as this would interrupt the flow of completed responses and change the implications of the results.

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(Fig 1.3) 39(94)

Looking at a blog:

In this section the methodology behind the MNBR archive analysis will be covered. As the Internet is vastly dominated by the latest generation of blog platforms, social networks and even micro-blogging services (abridged blogs popularised by Twitter), the process of finding and engaging with blogs is developing. To gain a complete picture of a blog one can begin by consulting with various third-party websites which try to interpret blog dynamics through complex statistics, though what is the most practical in terms of sourcing is going directly to archived content.

If someone wants to start a blog from scratch, it is both a free and relatively fast process, with the most popular content management systems (BCMS) being; Live Journal, Blogger, Wordpress, Typepad and Xanga (Hookway: 2008). From an immediate scan of the main service providers it is easy to distinguish which sites cater for more ‘diary’ based blogging i.e. Live Journal which consists of arbitrary personal updates mainly operating closed networks, as oppose to Wordpress or Blogger which contains styles of writers who have a level of consistent reportage on specific news items in more open networks. Since the latter is inline with the research, general searches on Wordpress and Blogger for the keywords ‘Baha'i’, ‘Iran’ and ‘Human rights’ returned around one hundred and fifty results with a handful of sites which kept on recurring as the criteria was refined, and from this the main community of bloggers which interacted with the MNBR were shortlisted.

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Technorati, the web’s biggest blog directory enables users to freely submit their blog to be indexed and online activity to be collected and presented, this served as a useful point to cross reference a blog from an individual host to a multi purpose network to judge its scope (Hookway: 2008). As of the 29th January 2009 Technorati ranked MNBR 140,502 out of the millions of blogs it lists, which makes it one of the highest ranked Bahá’í orientated blog. This can be attributed to its team of contributors and fans which promote it across various outlets on the web including social networking sites, and also the relation it has to Mideasyouth.com its highly topical ‘parent’ website.

The set of research related blogs identified and used in the e-mail list to distribute the online questionnaire (see results) are important to the study’s understanding in two ways; firstly they are consistently highly ranked blogs in user returned search results, secondly to some extent they all communicate between each other in the strategy of their blogs. As mentioned in the introduction out of this core, one of these blogs serves as the main focus of research which is the Muslin Network for Baha'i Rights (MNBR), this particular blog has been presented as the primary blog for a number of reasons. To an outsider of the community of bloggers on the Bahá’í persecution, they may not distinguish between sympathisers from representatives at a first glance, as the majority of blogs online produce posts which criticise the plight of the Bahá’ís discrimination in Iran, excluding the odd profanity found by hate groups.

This gives a sense, that whether or not the author was a Bahá’í or not, seemed not so significant in this instance, what was more compelling were the online discussions

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arising on a matter seldom voiced. Regardless of this, for good practice this factor of subjectivity did not go unnoticed in the sampling and selection process, as the MNBR adds an interesting example in the research, as although its blog is campaigning for Bahá’í rights, it is surprisingly from a relatively neutral camp. It was started by Esra'a al-Shafei, a liberal student from Bahrain who campaigns for the rights of minorities, she writes for the Baha’i Rights blog, which has been produced as part of a collective of forward thinking Muslim youth under the umbrella of the ‘Mideast Youth Network’. An association that describes itself as “a student-owned independent network that promotes constructive dialogue and understanding within the Middle East and North Africa.” (Website) A description for an online network given authority by features in podcasts on; BBC Radio 5 (Vallance: 2007), and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University (Harvard Online: 2009).

The MNBR is a noteworthy online media outlet representing a region which is portrayed as bitterly opposed to such ideals as freedom and coexistence of religious minorities. This represents a rather bizarre occurrence of events, as many misconceptions relate to the circumstances in Iran, which argue that because the Islamic authorities denounce the Bahá’í Faith ideologically and persecute them, then as a result the two entire religious groups are in conflict with each other in any social context, which as the MNBR illustrates is a falsity. Bahairights.org (MNBR) users come from the following countries: United States 35.3%, Egypt 6.3% and other countries 58.4% (Alexa Online: 2008). These demographics suggest that although it is a Middle Eastern blog which has users from Iran and Egypt (the two main countries it reports on), it is

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also dominated by Western viewers in the traffic it receives, these statistics also made a contributing factor in the choice of this blog as it clearly has a diverse readership.

Iinitial research in to the MNBR blog archive started before the data collection stage, and involved monitoring the blogging community by using an ‘RSS’ aggregator called ‘News Gator’ see figure 1.4. This ‘really simple syndication’ or blog content feed allows a blog’s updates to be conveniently monitored remotely on the Internet in the form of alerts (Mishne et al: 2006). In doing so, emerging activity in the individual main blogs were watched, as well as a general Google News keyword searches across the whole web, this allowed the researcher to stay updated with any breaking stories which would shift the type and focus of research. This convenience of being informed of updates, in practical terms allowed the researcher to not only be free from the burden of periodically visiting the MNBR blog to check activity, but also by using the same RSS technology one can keep an eye on blogs using a mobile telephone device.

(Fig 1.4)

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The first stage of the data collection began examining the MNBR which although has been individually designed, it is hosted on the widely used open-source blog platform Wordpress. This stage involved an examination of all the posts which relate to the human rights of Bahá’ís in Iran, including the archived posts beginning in January 14th 2008 until December 30th 2008, that is all those that were put in the category of ‘Iran’ by the posts creators see figure 1.5.

(Fig 1.5) The criteria was set based on feedback from the survey to; indentify sources by reading the text to highlight the different blogs or websites used in the body of the blog post, recording what the origins of users who left comments were, also the multimedia that was counted with a note on the; images, video and audio included in the posts. These factors all helped to build a picture of how interactive a blog post is and its potential channels, such a method entailed systematically working through the archive and

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recording each post to access how tangible the activity on the blog was and be able to then illustrate examples which showed a reasonably level of interactivity. Typically each entry would be recorded in tabular form similar to figure 1.6; this extracts archival data such as the posts number (from the date range chosen) the date it was published and the title of the blog post. It then has headings for the classification of the aspects of the blog posts; these have been informed by common responses in the survey (see results).

To illustrate how these tackle key concerns of this empirical study the example of ‘blog post one’ will be commented on, in this item the MNBR uses one online news source in their blog post which is the liberal website the Iranian.com, it is tied to their values of uncovering and presenting a progressive portrayal of Iran. As the blog post’s other interactions are observed they divulge how they make three references back to the online news source in the body of the text used for consistency, while additionally Wikipedia and a YouTube video were used as well as three links to other bloggers. These are trails of a strategy which uses new media to enhance news reporting and encourages others to join the MNBR camp. The interactivity is thus assessed by these headings, and relates to the aims as stated in the introduction which is participation; to address a specific concern, attract others to discuss it, use a variety of multimedia and whether other channels report on the content.

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Blog post: 1 Date: 14/01/08

Source(s) of article 1 - Iranian.com

Links (to websites) 1-3 – To source 4 – To Wikipedia 5 – To Youtube

Links (to blogs) 1 – HR blogger 2 – Egypt rights 3 – Iran Press Watch

Title: Sacrificing the innocent

(Online news site, reports house arrests)

Post categories History, Human Rights, Iran, Persecution, Translations

Multimedia Video – Additional video was added / hosted on Youtube (Fig 1.6)

Social bookmarks Available

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Chapter four
And the survey says? An outline of the results and findings of the applied methods will be shown and grouped according to their relevancy, where appropriate several salient examples from the results will be highlighted. To begin with after launching the online survey for one and a half months, a total of eleven responses were gained from the promotion of the survey link, it was primarily distributed by a group e-mail list to twenty bloggers. The survey platform FreeOnlineSurveys.com provided a useful option of e-mail updates whenever a participant had completed the questions, this would inform the researcher by summarising the results. The server would create a database of the findings and immediately draw comparisons, and allow options for extracting the data from the results to create charts and graphs.

As the level of participation to this part of the research was well within the aims of the project, the survey was suspended, and at the analysis stage work began to draw a partial picture of what the Bahá’í blogosphere looks like, to inform the bulk of the research. Whilst endeavoring to practice attention to detail at the design stage, a lot of the questions avoided giving completely misleading and unclear results, although there were a couple of instances where the questions could have been worded more carefully, leading to misunderstanding, resulting in a user skipping a question or giving a vague answer.

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When individuals completed the survey they were clearly informed that it was anonymous, the service provider was set up so it would not track visitors IP (Internet Provider) addresses, for reasons of privacy discussed in the ethical portion of the cover page of the survey. Also in keeping with this, the questions deliberately avoided personal probing, the only question which was identifying was the first one ‘Are you a member of the Bahá’í community?’ This had the options of ‘yes’ ‘other’ and ‘I’d rather not disclose’, the results showed that all of those who had contributed were allegedly from the Bahá’í community, even though a handful of non-Bahá’í bloggers were targeted for the research. This may reflect fears from activists who would rather say they were ‘Bahá’í’ then identify their own cause i.e. Muslims who are safeguarding the Bahá’ís on an issue of harassment which is carried out in the name of ‘Islam’.

Now the overall significance of the findings will be discussed in relation to the survey questions; firstly the individual usage will be looked at, then the format of blogs and this is followed by questions regarding impact. It was revealed from questions surrounding the individual usage that out of these eleven responses, around seven of them claimed to have not been working in the area of human rights before they became bloggers. This reflects the nature of the amateur side of blogging, as many had been writing for less then six months, though this does not necessarily diminish their efforts. Being actively engaged with blogs led them to report, that weekly they would spend at least just under an hour a day reading blogs, with a couple noting that they spent significantly more then this and one a lot less. This is telling of the nature of news online as like the researcher, one has to constantly monitor the web’s sources, for

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stories to be accurate. In many ways this makes this online public sphere more current then any news agency or human rights organisations could be, as bloggers extract various sources which form some of the most breaking news stories their is.

In regards to the their choice of the medium of blogging as oppose to more traditional media, the consensus were replying that it is an easy and fast service that gives ‘a voice and engages in dialogue.’ Also it was noted how the personal aspect of this which the diary form of blogging gives, is a motivational factor, as bloggers like to publish their own take on the news. This shows how within the realms of intimacy of the actual producers themselves, the ramifications of personal opinion may not be fully grasped in relation to whether this creates meaningful (in terms of established activism in human rights) interactions or one’s which are misguided. Question six asked what sources are used in the blogs for informing news stories; half of them report that they cite ‘The Bahá’í World News Service’, news sites or blogs of activists such as the MNBR similarly Iran Press Watch (IPW) was another major source but had only been established recently.

These revealing and valuable insights lead to the MNBR being chosen as the focus, as it was clearly favored by the community as a regularly updated source of information. A quarter stated that they rely on a mix of ‘Google Alerts’, friends emailing news and actual newspaper stories as additional sources. This can show how while they overlap there are two types of bloggers; those commenting on stories from traditional news sources and the corroboration of public perceptions, contrasted with those who rely on

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new media and independent journalism to create a picture of the persecution.

Now the results of the format of the blogs will be discussed, in question seven (figure.1.7) it was asked: ‘what multimedia do you commonly use in blog posts to supplement a news story on the persecution of the Bahá’í?’ ‘A’ which represent video, and ‘B’ image content together formed the largest contribution to blog posts, with uses of satirical cartoons ‘E’ in blog posts, also being listed four times, no one showed a lack of common usage of multimedia. As images and video were perceived as tools to encourage interaction, this finding can indentify that bloggers feel the need to utilise multimedia to advance the visual aesthetic of blogs as if they cease to, their message may not be that appealing to viewers.

(Fig 1.7)

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This is not to suggest desensitisation to human rights but rather to conventional news reporting which normally contains lengthy columns of text. In another closely related query regarding the tools used for promotion of blog content, 18% of the possible choices were for the option of sharing their blog with their friends and contacts. Other major choices were listings in the blog directory Technorati, RSS feeds and search engine optimisation. This is a an eye-opener in regards to the way that ‘word of mouth’ is still used, even with the onset of advanced ‘Web 2.0’ tools of promotion, which in a way enhance the means of peer to peer communication. On average a quarter of the people found that user interaction with their blogs was generally through someone citing their blog, leaving comments was the most popular and is the most direct communication channel.

Comments on blogs are susceptible to spam and malicious attacks directed at the blogger’s content, though this was not the case with this blog as it was non-commercial and well maintained. There is a correlation between the blog content and the amount of comments it receives, and analysis of the Bahá’í persecution online relates to what Trevino (2005) observes, that blog authors are motivated by the direct feedback that comments can give. Whilst Mishne (2006) recognises that the exchanges in comments are overlooked, in studies which primarily focus on a blog post’s content.

When assessing the use of blogs as a channel of communication on the topic of human rights, the advantages and disadvantages were explored. Question thirteen was looking for specific accounts of blog posts which have sparked reactions from other people to take action against the Bahá’í persecution, while two people expressed that people have

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e-mailed their posts quite widely before, many express no such instances with only the minority having concrete examples such as; collaborating with CNN, Media Shift and informing Bahá’í institutions. This suggests that apart from the odd major feature, most of the effects of people taking action as a result of a blog occurs between bloggers.

(Fig 1.8) Now the questions regarding impact will be uncovered, in figure 1.8 it is illustrated that no one had any rejections to blogs being viewed as credible news sources, with all the results indicating that people were split according to whether they felt that lack of credibility was not true or that they were impartial to the line of questioning. Digging deeper in to whether or not blogs are made by amateurs, it was asked if they aid freedom of expression by being a tool to cover news affecting Iranian Baha'is. A substantial answer was gained by one author saying that: ‘Democratisation of publishing has always been a force in furthering awareness. While broadsheets and pamphlets may have been the tools of the past, fuelling revolutions and sparking discussion and debate, the internet has birthed an even more dramatically democratised

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media, giving voices to those who previously had none.’ This taps in to the broader debates of this research regarding shifts in media, and suggests that bloggers are internalising democratisation in their work.

This rather personal account of the blogging community gave a considerable amount of leverage in looking at the MNBR and positioning it within this international neighbourhood of bloggers, in each ‘street’ these ‘locals’ may swing from the occasional personalised coverage, to at times a more systematic one, though through their regular contact with each other (boosted by new media channels) they form a cohesive force of resistance against repressive ideals.

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Inside the archive of a blog:

Now the research which followed the survey specifically applying this knowledge in to a framework to look at the interactivity of the MNBR will be summarised. Having found from the survey that the MNBR blog was used as a significant resource for presenting news from Iran on the Bahá’í persecution, it was then analysed paying close attention to its relation to the different channels of communication. Particular attention was made to video and image content as it was previously flagged in the survey as being used significantly amongst bloggers, also the comment section (which is found at the bottom of a blog post) was identified as crucial to determine what types of networks of people who read the posts came from.

This is useful if someone who left a comment turned out to be another blogger, who had re-posted the story. These in turn would make up a representation of the blogs sense of interactivity and give some space for interpretation of its popularity, which can reflect on how credible it is as a news source, this is disputed by Ulicny (2005) but still remains a widely used method (that Technorati uses) for determining what blogs are ‘worthwhile’.

When exploring the content in fifty-four blog posts, a significant insight was gained in to the MNBR blog, it should be noted that the category ‘Iran’ was excluded from the summary of the results as it was used as part of the selection process of the posts in the first place, thus occurring in all of the results. Also all of the posts in the archived content provided e-mail sharing and distribution to social-networking bookmarks by

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default. As a starting point looking at the framework of the research of the primary group of bloggers figure 1.9 can show the different relationships of the channels of news sites, and blogs which interact with the MNBR.

The level of activity based upon the dynamics gained from the descriptions provided by the online survey, makes the MNBR blog appear to have a central role in distributing news on the persecution of the Baha'is to its range of Middle Eastern, European and North American audiences. When a story is published on the Internet, it can take the form of an official press release by the Bahá’í International Community, a human rights organisation or an insider tip from a blogger, in any case the community of bloggers modifies the content in their own way and play an integral role in distribution. This in turns makes their own miniature map; it is observed how the MNBR becomes a valuable democratic and central player in this area, as it is a well known independent Middle Eastern commentator on the Bahá’í issue, and an avid user of multimedia to harness exposure to human rights.

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(BWNS) Bahá'í World News Service: The Bahá'í International Community’s official news source that provides; reports and press releases on current Bahá’í activity around the world. http://news.bahai.org/

A news story is posted about human rights in Iran

The Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights (MNBR): A Liberal Muslim blog about the rights of Baha’is from a non Bahá’í perspective, raising awareness of the issue and producing viral content such as YouTube videos and cartoon satire, the blog is an initiative of the Middle East Youth Network. http://www.bahairights.org/

Story is picked up by Bahai Rights on the mistreatment of Bahá’ís. It is blogged about within their network.

Also they produce a video on Youtube to raise awareness. Baha'i faith in Egypt & Iran:
An Egyptian Bahá’í who focuses on covering the issue of human rights in Egypt and Iran, regularly documenting and adding commentary on newspaper and TV coverage.

http://www.bahai-egypt.org/

The Egypt & Iran blog sees the video and blogs about it.

Barnabas Quotidianus:
The personal blog of Barney Leith, an English Bahá’í and a representative of the UK national spiritual assembly, the blog regularly reports on the situation of the Baha’is in Iran.

Barnabas Quotidianus sees the post about the video and mentions it on his blog.

http://www.leithjb.net/blog/

Also at each stage comments are exchanged back and forth about the blog posts, this is alongside additional links and multimedia content.

In turn other blogs pick up the story and repost and access the channel at different stages, adding and opening up more flows each time.

(Fig 1.9)

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In the MNBR the documentation found it had used a total of fifty four sources in the blog posts recorded, which meant that out of all the entries looked at only one did not cite any source for the basis of its news, while another had more then one which balanced out this figure to represent the same number of posts selected. Apart from the one post with no clear reference, the blog had done well to provide a source for each post rather then posting material haphazardly, though this does indicate that its main function is not to provide well grounded journalism rather to form a repository of stories related to the Bahá’ís using various sources.

The news sources varied with many of the online news sites being only featured once, across a large range of; Arabic / Persian language, North American and European online news edition websites. Largely, this showed that stories were followed and presented on the blog as and when different news agencies happen to report on the Bahá’ís in Iran. Only two blogs were used as the main sources of posts such as ‘Iran Press Watch’ (which is a blog by an Iranian scholar who provides regular translations of the Iran’s media’s coverage of the Bahá’í Faith), with the more established news sites being frequently used such as; the ‘Bahá'í World News Service’ and ‘Human Rights Activists in Iran’. Mideast Youth Media (Censeo or MEY TV) was an outlet producing comics and other viral media for the MNBR blog.

When observing how the MNBR links between different mediums on the internet, it was gathered that over half of all outbound hyperlinks relate directly to the source of the item posted, either as a direct reference to the article or to the webpages hompage.

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This occurrence of letting people only leave the site to trace an article, gives a sense of how careful the MNBR are to avoid visitors tuning out of their network which can be counter productive to maintaining an environment which relies on rapport. To supplement the main sources links were also made to additional points of comparison and angles by the use of Wikipedia, Facebook groups, translations of documents and other news websites.

As well as the news sites that the MNBR linked to, thirty five blogs were attributed to in the body of all the posts combined, with around half of this being tactical organisational threads leading to previous MNBR posts. This was used when a news item was developing over time, such as the instance of a string of arsons against Bahá’í homes (29/02/08 - 19/07/08) in which several reports unfolded over the course of months, to recap the situation an internal link to related stories were added in the text of the blog posts. The remainder of links to blogs in the posts were either acknowledging related blog posts as a source or commentator on the issue such as ‘Iran Press Watch’.

The comments were unravelled for a general view of their messages, while reading over their opinions to establish their integrity; sources were traced to reveal patterns to the conversations of this online community. Comments took on the role of being the first point of call a reader has with the author, and a textual forum for civic engagement. Only one instance of a ‘malicious’ comment was found where an individual questioned the validity of the faith of the persecuted minority, it is perceived that administrator moderation and clear disclaimers have resulted in other comments

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being removed and many being discouraged. In an interview with one of the admins of the blog, they reveal that they get most of the abuse sent to them directly (Etling: 2009).

It can be estimated from the results gained that on average each post received two or more user comments from visitors to the MNBR blog, out of this 80% were ‘anonymous’ this is classified as those who provide some sort of name or pseudonym but do not provide a regular link to their website when commenting. It is not that surprising given the controversial nature of this blog and its exposure to authoritarian societies, that people conceal their identity, though this does not deter a considerable amount of people who put themselves in danger when engaging in such dialogue.

One in ten of the comments can be identified as other blog users reacting to the news items with their thoughts, this is fewer then expected, and when it occurs they usually offer more information as the news progresses or general moral support. A couple of regular posters were a Wikipedia (online encyclopaedia) user and a book author who had works available on Amazon, the former is a useful commenter as they can influence stories by editing online Bahá’í ‘Wikis’ related to the persecution based on news brought to their attention by the MNBR.

In terms of multimedia despite the assumption that this is used regularly on blogs to illustrate points and make the design and layout of stories more attractive and in some cases more distributable, what was gathered from the archive of the MNBR was that a huge media presence was not apparent in the construct of an average blog post. With no

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single use of just audio, in the case of images twenty two instances were found across all of the posts which were taken directly from the article that was used as a source, apart from the odd original political comic made by Censeo (the Mideast Youth Network’s illustrator) and slideshows of pictures sent in by eye-witnesses. The rest of the pictures mirror a simple reproduction style of postings, quoting a news articles text with their original images to illustrate a point.

The only more substantial use of media and what has popularised the MNBR online, was the use of viral video content, this engaged with different networks on the Internet while being in some cases produced by the MNBR as a way to draw people in and share content with their friends on social networks. Just fewer than ten percent of the fifty four blogs posts selected, had used original or cited video content in their posts, which is a considerable amount.

All in all ninety uses of categories within posts were used, this helps with indexing when searching the blog, archiving and also for external sites which generate the topic area of a site e.g. Technorati would categorise a blog with the types of topics that it tags itself with. This ranged from; history, interfaith, religious freedom, arson, human rights and recent news. With the most popular tag being ‘human rights’ used twenty eight times, along with ‘persecution’ and ‘education’. Some lacked consistency, this meant that similar areas where not grouped as they had been in the past such as issues relating to a ‘comic’ which was only labelled once out of the many posts which featured comics.

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This can lead to some users not finding all of the appropriate content they want. In the occurrences of trackbacks (a way of seeing which blog users are linking back to the MNBR blog in their own posts) eighteen were noted, which shows interactivity but not on a large scale, some of this can be accounted for by users not citing the MNBR directly. A large portion of communication between various publics was rather sporadic, apart from some peaks and drops relating to certain headlines, chronologically as the posts featured less input from the MNBR in editorial terms, the less comments and trackbacks were found, which indicate a decline in interactivity. The following segment of the results will illustrate some of the notable interactions whilst noting any exceptions to this behaviour.

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Mapping interactions:

(Fig 2.0) From the results gathered in the archived posts, it is increasingly difficult to get a clear understanding of the circumstances surrounding human rights on the web when the stories are ongoing and data hard to grasp. Visual maps were created to gain a new view of an individual part of the networks in action. After reviewing the results as a whole, three particularly vivid examples of interactivity in the MNBR blog posts have been selected, these illustrate clear channels of communication intersecting the blog in their account of the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran. Following on from the concept of Kelly’s (2008) maps of the Iranian blogosphere (mentioned previously in the methodology) this approach was modified at a more fundamental level, attempting to visualise what interactions took place in the environment of a blog post.

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A useful diagram from Wynants (2006) shown above in figure 2.0 gives a precise annotation of the networks in blogs, as the ‘blog data source’ shows they are intrinsically linked to the media and data they combine in their sources, which create other avenues of communication in themselves. Wynants places the emphasis on the user, who has the underlying control to take this content and redistribute it. He seems to overlook the level in which this process has a duality of ‘prosumption’, with the creator and user contributing in almost equal measure to the interactivity of content, which is what the interactive maps in this research stress and take in to consideration.

The first case in the MNBR, is in a post (blog post five in the research documentation) titled ‘Persecution of Bahá’ís in Iran dated’ April 21st, 2008 mapped in figure 2.1. In this instance the MNBR provide a summary of the persecution in Iran, relating specifically to the period following the 1979 Islamic revolution, when arrests and executions were widespread events. The MNBR cover the story based on their own adapted source which is taken from a report on the American television news network ABC, aired originally in 1983, this was uploaded to Google Video on April 07th, 2007. To make this video known to the world, in the main part of the post they have acknowledged the video, and have translated it in to Arabic by adding subtitles to 'promote dialogue' with Middle Eastern countries.

Although this video is quite dated and its style holds many biases towards Islam (even given the situation of the Bahá’í), the re-emergence of worrying government policies in recent times, still makes it as relevant today to the intensity of attacks faced after the

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1979 Islamic revolution. This type of media usage can be referred to as ‘collaborative remixability’ where information is shared and can be modified to convey a whole set of new ideas (Manovich in Dybward: 2005). This then translated and edited version of the original news piece which was already hosted on Google's video sharing networks, that had a couple of comments on its page, has been independently hosted on 'MEY TV', a separate media portal for Mideasyouth.com. A total of nine comments from various channels were left on the post, they comprised of a couple of regular people who comment, and some who have been drawn to this article and had reposted content, the diagram shows the activities of the interactions within the post.

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(Fig 2.1)

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The second instance that will be illustrated is (blog post fifteen in the research documentation) a post named ‘Persepolis 2: Safeguard the Innocent’ published on the MNBR on August 15th, 2008 shown in figure 2.2. It is one of the most popular blog posts on the site, and has been featured on different; podcasts, news items and interviews about the MNBR as a prime example of unique communication online. Its main article describes the historic nature of the video, which is the main source. It is based on the internationally well-received cartoon film called ‘Persepolis’ (2007), it’s about a young Iranian girl that grows up amidst the Islamic Revolution. The title itself is the name of an ancient Persian city, which is believed to be the same rich ancestry in which an early form of human rights was first written over two thousand years ago by Cyrus the Great.

In this commentary of events in the blog post, the point is made to remix this now popularised cinematic story of repression, with the themes of the current persecution of the Bahá’ís. Scenes from the film are adapted and cut together with different text to form a trailer, which is dubbed with a narrative talking about the Bahá’í plight in an emotive way. The rest of the text in the blog post includes copyright issues justifying that the video complies with a Creative Commons licence which is an online legal agreement. The article goes on to list numerous hyperlinks within the blogs own network for people to learn about and take action on the issue after viewing the video, suggesting that the MNBR conceived that this ‘intertextual’ publicity stunt would attract first time viewers to the blog.

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The trailer is hosted on the ‘MEY TV’ network but it was initially hosted on Youtube and has received twenty seven thousand views and over eighty five comments at the time of writing. Youtube is infamous for spam and offensive responses; regardless of this it still makes this content a viral video in Internet terms. On the MNBR its own direct comments number twenty two, with a variety of bloggers leaving messages which trace back to their own site, which often re-post the story and there are considerable messages of appreciation left. A real sense of broader community engagement is made with this post, resulting in users forwarding their own links to similar content and one response is left in Arabic itself showing the scale of the readership as noted in the diagram with international bloggers engaging with this story.

Through dissecting the chain of comments, it shows in this case a four stage process with; one the initial post, second the ‘Bahá’í Faith in Egypt and Iran’ blog’s direct comment on the post, three the same user’s reposting of the content on their blog and four another user reposting the story for the second time as a result of this. This of course is just one flow streaming from a single comment, others create different patterns and as a whole they from a larger picture.

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(Fig 2.2)

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The third and final example is not as vivid as the previous cases, rather it reveals what the other part of the research had found in the majority of the research documentation, that the MNBR seemed to show a decrease in comments over time and one factor that may be playing a role in this is the way articles were becoming more of a re-printing or ‘aggregator’ (like a manual RSS feed) service rather then adding additional journalistic views. This is shown in the post ‘Offices of Shirin Ebadi raided’ (blog post 51 in the research documentation) released on December 21st, 2008 illustrated in figure 2.3.

To allow room for some scope to look at the whole picture, it has been presented in conjunction with major developments relating to the post which have emerged in early 2009. It deals with news from Iran that prominent human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi (who defends the Bahá’ís), has faced a rise in attacks against her office in Tehran. This was brought to attention when her offices were raided, papers were ceased and her work was subsequently monitored by the state. She has been targeted as she is viewed as ‘Western’ in her outlook by advocating women’s rights and those of minorities.

The article by the MNBR sourced Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, an online radio news site which featured Ebadi’s story. This time the MNBR has little original content, but covers a major story and in doing so has trackbacks in the form of comments, which show how the MNBR have cited this entry in later editions as the story has progressed over time. The updated events of this post relate specifically to the ongoing trial of seven Bahá’í leaders in Iran who are being held in Iran’s iniquitous Evin prison,

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in February 2009 major broadcasters such as CNN and Channel 4 News picked up on this story and have related it to Shirin Ebadi’s legal work, as she has offered legal aid to these imprisoned men and women. Even if this initial blog post by the MNBR hasn’t been that dynamic, other levels of communication in more traditional media have risen since its arrival, due in part to the Internet’s ability to appeal around the world, and as this research argues this relates to the overall interactivity that a blog’s impact has (seen below in Wikipedia referencing the MNBR blog post).

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(Fig 2.3)

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What does this all mean? In the discussion and presentation of the results, what is demonstrated is how the multimethod approach has; firstly asked questions to bloggers, it then has used this to inform documenting a blog and it has ended by using this data to produce visual maps which address interactivity. The central line of questioning underpinning this research was to gain an understanding of the medium of blogging by presenting and documenting a small portion of the blogosphere that covers the scenario of the Bahá’í religious minority in Iran, and to judge how interactive it is. To some extent these have all been addressed in the results and a modest contribution to this area of research has been provided, though some areas were overlooked and many obstacles were faced, which will be unpacked.

To summarise the findings, it can be seen that the online survey provided to be useful, it was not completed by large numbers but it was able to reach a respectable portion of the active bloggers within the targeted community. The objectives set were to identify the relationships between bloggers and other sources in creating their content, the common traits of how they managed their postings and how they address human rights in their work. Since these questions gained a high level of detailed responses it was deemed they were inclined to reveal this information, and in summary can be seen to address the following three main points. First of all the bloggers themselves varied in experience and background but all were united in their sympathy and a general consensus that blogging was a credible and easy way to promote their cause. Secondly, producing news relied on personal ties with bloggers and monitoring the Internet for

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possible leads, this network was greatly involved in such actions and had impacted various media outlets at different stages. Thirdly for their efforts to be shared, they needed to regularly contribute using all avenues of promotion, assisted by keeping in close contact with their subscribers.

The documenting of the MNBR blog archive was almost data collection in to uncharted territory, as although there is guidance in this area, it doesn’t provide one single generic suggestion for looking at a blog as a whole, especially its interactivity. This challenge was met by using the survey to select a blog which stood out among the community, this did allow for some interesting posts to be read and their communication to be qualitatively recorded. But it still was such an ongoing active climate of exchanges, which meant that consistency was hard to maintain.

The insights gained can be summarised to; first that a blog post on the MNBR about the Bahá’ís in Iran is well structured and covers the news of the persecution by systematically presenting stories from online news sites, non-governmental organisations and first hand accounts with translations to and from English, Persian and Arabic. Second it does not use blogs so much in its sourcing, but it is a landmark blog it in its own right, being arguably the most effective blog which features on the Mideast Youth Network, the MNBR channels are therefore more of a one way process, were people commenting and sharing do so quite passively. Third this network’s posts overall, appear much like bulletins with the occasional more revealing journal approach, with the MNBR becoming an established resource, the only real interactivity

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and advocacy for the Bahá’ís comes in its remixed or original multimedia which spreads widely.

The visual narratives shown with the interactivity maps go a step further from looking at archive posts from the data side, and view how content on a blog flows by illustrating each mode of interaction. It was narrowly focused, which on the one hand gave a specific account of individual posts uniquely, on the other it did not give room for taking a broader look at this network and to see how it links in with wider media on the Internet, which initially was planned as area an area to explore in greater detail.

These charts revealed that a posts interactivity can be split in to a few categories; those that utilised existing content and repackaged it to promote their agenda (Fig 2.1), one’s which presented original content in an appeal supported by additional remixed media which helped emphasise an issue (Fig 2.2) and the case of providing a reference point on a poignant issue which would be influential enough to spark future coverage by other media outlets (Fig 2.3). As a whole this gives a complex picture of the area of study, with many parties creating the news; it reveals the scale to which the interactive nature of blogging has helped excel itself forward as a viable and respectable medium to communicate human rights.

Looking back at literature with these results at hand, the analysis has shown how blogging is a remarkable avenue, with its affordances to create a space for debate which reaches lively audiences. As to the lack of research outside of ‘open societies’, this

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proved to be a factor throughout the entire piece. This does not detract from the point that there are plenty of examples out their, as the MNBR is part of network which has other blogs which promote the human rights of other groups and causes such as Kurds and honour killing victims. This is as well as blogs such as ‘Global Voices’ and research in to bloggers in the somewhat restricted country of Belarus, Morozov (2007). When viewing literature which dealt with human rights on the Internet, it did suggest that information overload was an important aspect, this was interpreted in this case to be slightly liberating with blogs tackling the overload by people creating new channels of information.

However it was observed that due to the exponential rise of blogging this information in itself was polluting the web, maybe not for the casual user but as the researcher learnt the closer a community was observed, the more incoming stories became increasingly daunting to keep up with in the research. The issue of the information society and new media’s increasing participatory ways to cover human rights is seen at different layers in the Bahá’í instance. Relating to Rebecca Blood’s description of blogs as methods of media literacy and a place were minority voices flourish, the MNBR does not gain from their blog as it is non-profit, the Bahá’ís are receiving multinational coverage in some cases as the survey reveals, by people who have taken a leap from citizen to journalist with little middle ground, leading towards largely positive affects for their cause.

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Dean’s view of fetishism in this online culture has some standing, as news does become commercial even at the grassroots level, with many instances of multimedia being presented as entertainment to just consume. The other layer in this does show interactivity occurring within this ‘new world’ at high levels, and this is an improvement in the active engagement of audiences compared to a closely interwoven previous generation which lacked empowerment. Tapscott sees this shift as generally pleasing “Time online is not taken away from hanging out with your friends or talking to your parents…It’s taking time away from television.” (Tapscott in Meckbach: 2008) His words are in response to cynical views held by some agencies which view youth who grow up in a ‘Web 2.0’ environment, as lacking social skills and creating meaningless content.

The blogs in question are largely youth driven and credit Tapscott’s research, with a highly accessible ring of blogs on the Internet covering intellectual topics, a setting exists which offers room for engagement as well as passivity. This submissiveness alternatively homes in on Keen’s contempt towards the ‘revolution’, which although is not completely identified in the results, strands of his arguments can be seen. As no matter how well perceived this research was and the examples of hope found online, it must be considered how idealistic or essentially misleading this amateur activity may be. Keen’s solution to the frenzy of new media outlets is that they cannot be stopped, but one most also find a way to “preserve and balance traditional media at the same time” (Keen: 2007:185).

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This is a fair point and traditional media as this study suggests is faltering in the process of the integration of citizen reportage, although at a level of interaction seen particularly in the MNBR maps, blogs are influencing more established institutions to learn to adapt to survive this shift. Many online news websites now feature regular blog columns, or make their stories interactive by adding easy links for their content to be shared on ‘Web 2.0’ networks, and even give an option to directly repost the article onto a user’s blog.

It is necessary to add a level of objectivity by acknowledging the problems with the accuracy of the results and how representative it really is with the actual phenomenon being explored. In all methods of the social sciences there are setbacks with the approach, by choosing a qualitative direction from the beginning, this did cloud judgement when extracting data, as blogs are already thought of subjective unreliable diaries despite what some theorists and bloggers say themselves about their merits. By tackling a very specialised topic area with little particular academic framework to draw on which encompassed all aspects of the study, this did in many ways create a danger zone of simply creating a method which would suite the ambiguous nature of the research. New media and blogs are loosely defined terms, and distinguishing ‘conscious’ blogs from junk can be troublesome.

While every effort was made to relate to literature, the distribution of the online survey and its intended focus was unconventional. As the survey took the role of an indirect interview in many ways in its tone, intending to reveal logistical information from

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bloggers, also its small response wasn’t sufficient to make general assumptions about the bloggers as a whole. In the archive of the MNBR, a period was chosen based on the posts that spanned roughly the year of 2008 which were tagged as relating to ‘Iran’, this may have left out mislabelled posts and in ideal circumstances the whole of the archive would have been the focus, as well as doing the same process to each of the related blogs as Hookway (2008) had done. If it had been practicable, it would give the study much more standing rather then relying on a multi-method approach. As the documentation was exploratory with only a hint of quantitative tallying, it would not reproduce the exact same results if another research had tried to recreate the study, mainly because a lot of interpretations had to be made to essentially explain the new online ways people are speaking to each other about human rights.

The design of the interactive maps intended to use simple graphics to help record a lot of the occurrences which were hard to word, though this did become quite simplistic. It was used to only emphasise three examples in the results which were thought to have stood out, this in retrospect should have consistently been done for every post in some shape or form, as in unfortunate in a way as it is hard to really see which posts are good instances of interactivity until they have been mapped out in some sort of diagram form.

To enhance this research if it was revisited or a similar area was being planned, the strengths and weaknesses of the piece can point towards developing a more thorough methodology one which comprises clear online analysis of discussions depending on

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the aims; by using a content or discourse analysis of blogs, with actual fieldwork involving interviewing new media producers or textual analysis of print media which has covered the issue to contrast it with. This is because even if the study is specifically dealing with virtual discourses, the online spheres can detract from understanding the actual human social relations in the public sphere surrounding the Bahá’í persecution.

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Chapter five
Conclusions:

(Fig 2.4) On February 25th 2009 Mideast Youth in association with the Muslim Network for Bahá’í Rights blog, placed an article on their website shown in the above comic figure 2.4. It parodied the increased media attention surrounding seven Bahá’í leaders on trial in Iran for alleged “Espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic republic” (Times Online: 2009). This links to the interactive map which deals with lawyer Shirin Ebadi who defends the Bahá’ís (blog post 51 in the research documentation) which was the side story building up to the increased media coverage around the court case. This is mentioned to show how diverse and animated some blogs are in taking the issue of human rights (in this case the Baha'is in Iran) to new and clearly significant heights in online discourses.

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After conducting the examination of the small community of bloggers who provide insights in to the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran, close attention to the Muslim Network for Bahá’í rights and the individual bloggers own uses and practices of the medium has produced interesting discoveries. This range from complimenting this small effort in being able to present their case study, from how trivial and easily outdated this information can be in a larger context and within long-established methods of viewing communication in the social sciences.

To conclude, in examining the ability of weblogs to report on the Iranian Baha'is persecution, this dissertation manages to find a blend of literature and methods to demonstrate this area and does so in some innovative ways. It has presented what blogs are as an online entity in relation to new media technologies, and this has been shown with the history of the Bahá’í Faith and why Iran has targeted them. It is framed it within Middle Eastern uses of media and the general background of censorship and human rights violations, where blogs can potentially become vehicles for social change and at the very least they open up new avenues for this process to manifest itself.

As a religious group Bahá’ís enjoy relative freedom around the world and exist quite peacefully, this is excluding certain Islamic countries, best illustrated in Iran where their activities are secretly monitored and University students expelled. While the government create baseless charges aimed at unjustly persecuting this minority, their state of affairs has remarkably won the Baha'is many sympathisers and representatives, even the most unlikely candidates’ young Middle Eastern Muslim youth. They have

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unremittingly used blogging to advocate their rights, with this medium offering a tool to accelerate this message further which was in many ways non existent to citizens prior to new media advancements, and the potential influence of which is now more widespread then human rights organisations that would circulate literature in the past.

Mideast Youth and the MNBR are adventurous, and use new media to create a rich network, which although is not as participatory as first envisioned, they certainly have the scope to offer the means to do this, attracting a varied audience and being closely watched by Bahá’í institutions/organisations and a growing portion of mainstream media. The MNBR blog functions as a greatly needed news resource for both people close to the Bahá’ís, and those who are distant to become more connected through the site’s ability to document a range of sources and promote the idealism of liberty in its innovative multimedia.

A blogs format is effective in its ability in allowing anyone to broadcast their views, the timeframe this can be done in and the options that allow for networking with like minded people constantly relies on; adapting, reinventing and reshaping not just what we know about a certain topic but also how can one express it to audiences in a different way. Viral content relies on precisely this notion on convincing an audience that they need to take on board a certain piece of information by transmitting the media (which in itself is groundbreaking) in an appealing and accessible way.

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The extent to which blogs are interactive channels is evident in their ability to diversify traditional news reporting and successfully utilise new technologies. However, as users become active in these communities, a mixture of views emerge to whether this type of behaviour is consistent and also if participation can become isolated from real grassroots activism on human rights. Even if blogs are shown to be sources of online interaction defending a minority, this has only be illustrated in a handful of studies with the broader blogosphere being more about commercialisation of content, and collaborative content for the most part being another form of consumption.

This study foresees based on its findings that because of blogging and its related communicative attributes, the Bahá’í Faith will increasingly appear as a topic of interest on the Internet and has done so to some extent already, it is the merits of blogging which have guided these already visible patterns of growth. This is not to say that the issue of Iranians being denied human rights is not newsworthy in its self, it is rather that blogs have accelerated this because they are an all-encompassing medium. In the Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights, a gateway is made between traditional press and new media and also between largely democratic and undemocratic societies, with the weblog forming the common ground to talk about human rights candidly.

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Appendices Online survey:

1) Are you a member of the Bahá’í community? Yes I'd rather not disclose No, Other (Please Specify):

2) How long have you been blogging/following blogs about the issue of the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran?

3) Were you involved in writing/monitoring content on the issue of the human rights of the Bahá’ís in Iran before you were using blogs? Yes No Other (Please Specify):

4) To the nearest half-hour or hour, how much time did you spend reading blogs last week?

5) As a blogger, why have you used this medium to express your views as oppose to more traditional media?

6) What is the most common online news source(s) (other blogs included) you have used for content in your blog posts on the persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran?

7) What multimedia do you commonly use in blog posts to supplement a news story on the persecution of the Bahá’í? Please indicate all that apply. Video Picture Audio (speech)

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Audio (music) Cartoon Other:

8) Please indicate which Internet service(s) you utilise to promote the circulation of your blog?

Technorati Twitter updates Tags Categories Digg Delicious Search engines RSS Feed Webring/or text ad network Guest Blogging Exchange links with other Bloggers Promoting your Blog amongst your own friends and contacts Other (Please Specify):

9) In your experience what is the most common instance of user interaction with your blog? Comments Trackbacks (Someone linking to your blog post) Sharing your post on a social network Emailing the post Subscribing to e-mail updates RSS/Atom Subscription Online press coverage on a news website (not a blog) Other (Please Specify):

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10) In creating posts which draw attention to the situation of the Bahá’ís in Iran, have you ever experienced malicious comments on your blog? Yes No 11) As oppose to other channels of communication in your experience what are a couple of advantages with using blogs to report on the issue of human rights?

12) As oppose to other channels of communication in your experience what are a couple of disadvantages with using blogs to report on the issue of human rights?

13) Is there a specific instance where a blogger/organisation/institution has taken action to highlight the persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran as a direct/indirect result of content on your blog? If so please leave details.

14) Some people feel blogs lack credibility as a news source. How do you respond to this statement?
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree Other (Please Specify):

15) It can be argued that despite the amateur nature of blogs, in the case of the Bahá’ís in Iran blogs are helping to liberate the freedom of expression of marginalised groups to some degree by disseminating current news on the persecution. Do you agree or disagree with this statement and why?

16) How do you feel about the following statement? Through blogging an online community is created that results in a sense of efficacy on the issue of the persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran.
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree Other (Please Specify):

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E-mail permission: Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2008 18:20:12 +0300 From: ******** To: ********** Subject: Re: Afshin Rohani Dear Afshin, Thanks for contacting us! We do not mind you using our blog as a source for your dissertation. Good luck on your research. Best, Esra'a November 14, 2008: Your Name Email Website Greetings, I am doing my dissertation for my undergraduate in communication and media studies, and my topic is on the communication channels of blogs which cover the topic of the persecution of Baha'is. Message My aim is to analyze the content from a media point of view to see how the online interactions of blogs work, for example how one blog post may inform a news article and various discussions. I was just wondering from an ethical point of view if you would mind me basing some of my research on the public posts on your blog. Afshin Rohani *************

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Research blog: A blog was created as a diary to accompany this dissertation and as an open a forum on the internet during the course of the research, which serves to make sure the work is current by informing members of the networks being studied of the progress of the research. http://afshinsresearch.wordpress.com/
Blog posts which have featured the researcher’s blog:

Changing Times Blog – A blog communicating cutting edge Baha’i news from around the world run by youth in conjunction with a European conference. http://blog.changing-times.org/2008/12/dissertation-on-blogging-and-persecutionof-the-bahais/ Baha’i Views – The blog of George Wesley Dannell, a Baha’i who collects clippings from blogs and websites on the Internet when people mention the Baha’i faith, he often mentions the persecution and adds his own comments. http://www.bahaiviews.net/2008/12/12/on-the-blogs-of-bahai-sympathisersrepresentatives-impact-by-amateurs/

Ethics: This thesis did not conduct any of its research before it had been approved to meet Brunel University’s ethical guidelines, the research approach was accepted on 11/12/08 and a copy of the form can be gained from the dissertation supervisor.

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