Iranian political dissidents have taken their protests online through synthetic worlds such as Second Life. These efforts may ultimately prove to be an effective voice for their cause as the virtual movement garners sustained interest and continues to be difficult for government forces to contain.

In the aftermath of the recent disputed elections in Iran, protests for democracy emerged in cyberspace. One of these forums is the synthetic world Second Life, where computer users create avatars and interact with others worldwide. Iranians use such an online platform to hold “Virtual Vigils” in memory of anti-Ahmadinejad protesters killed by security forces. These virtual rallies are hard to shut off because the mechanics of virtual protest are very fluid and computerized political activists find ways to circumvent government controls. Efforts to restrict the internet usage of virtual protesters only strengthen the cause of the rallies because the online community views such attempts as an offense against expression.

Although virtual protests are limited by the interest of participants, the combination of multiple forms of media such as international television coverage and print media reports reinforces the interest level of cyber protests. There is potential for a paradigm shift in dissent if online protests like those for Iran’s democratic movement gain credibility as legitimate forms of protest. Undemocratic governments are held accountable through cyberspace even after suppressing domestic political dissent of real-world protesters.

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Max Burns is an international projects lobbyist with a private consulting firm in Washington, D.C. and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. He has worked on foreign affairs in the United States Congress and as a staff writer for The Asia Chronicle. You can find more of Max's work on his blog, Pixels and Policy; he can be reached at PixelPolicy [at] gmail [dot] com.

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