Joseph Braude in The New Republic:
It is commonly hoped that the Internet will help save Iran from its theocratic rulers. Five million Iranians are online and Persian is now the third most common language in the global village of blogs, according to Stanford researchers. “Those guys … don’t know what has hit them yet,” Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford, says of the effect the Internet will have on Tehran’s mullahs. The Times of London has dubbed Iran’s feisty blogosphere, now over 100,000 strong, “a new species of protest that is entirely irrepressible” and that “may be a harbinger of revolution.” The Nation has heralded “a fierce debate about the country’s future [that] is underway in the blogosphere” and speculated that it “could help open up that society.” Even an Iranian politician has spoken of the Internet’s transformative power: Former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a prolific blogger himself, told an American journalist last fall, “The net is influential and will bring more pressure for change. … [N]ow that young people consider themselves members of a worldwide movement, they have higher expectations.”
All this optimism has the effect of cooling international calls for urgent action to thwart Iran’s nuclear armament. If you believe, for example, that two more years of Iranian exposure to the Internet will spur a political transformation from within, then you might worry less about a nuclear weapons program that could take, say, three years to become operational.
But such optimism fails to take account of one key factor: The Internet may actually impede political change in Iran as much as it facilitates it.