Unmasking the Arzeshi - Iran's Conservative Cyber Activists

Politics & Society
Mittwoch, 7. Mai 2014 - 12:30 bis 13:30
stage C


The Small Media team will talk you through their latest piece of research, looking at Iran's army of conservative cyber activists - the Arzeshi. Having tracked the conservative community from January - August 2013, Small Media was able to gain insights into the ways the Arzeshi built an online community dedicated to the country's Supreme Leader. The study blows apart state claims of a cyber army of tens of thousands of activists, demonstrating that the community is more fractured, and far less disciplined than the regime might like to admit.


Small Media has been busy keeping track of Iran's conservative blogosphere for the past few years, and in that time we've seen some fairly wild statistics being thrown out by government sources as to the extent of conservatives' presence online. Hojjat ol-Islam Shaban Esmaeli, a representative of Iran's Supreme Leader, said in a November 2012 interview that 35,000 Basiji have been active online, combating anti-government and reformist bloggers and social network users.

In our latest piece of research, we wanted to find out whether these numbers were realistic, or whether the government is simply inflating figures to exaggerate the size of the online conservative community. In addition, we wanted to take a look at the Iranian conservative community up close, and see how united it really was. We chose three separate platforms for this research: the Iranian blogosphere, Twitter, and Google+. This allowed us to take in a range of different data, and track individual conservative Arzeshi bloggers across different environments, to see how their communities changed.

We ended up with a lot of data. Big, huge data. In total we had to contend with around a million links gathered together from the blogosphere, tens of thousands of Google+ activities, and a bustling community of Twitter users.

In its original state, all this data could really give us was cataracts - it wasn't too pretty. So we had to process it, analyse it, and visualise it in order to allow the data to express itself, and communicate a coherent narrative to the reader. In our talk, we'll discuss the challenges of finding meaning in big data, and outline some of the conclusions we came to. Sometimes these solutions involved big data visualisation tools such as Gephi; other times, these tools were at risk of becoming part of the problem.

We'll talk you through our latest report, discuss how we turned reams of big data into a coherent narrative, and give you some fresh insights into the nature of Iranian online communities.

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