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Battle for Iran is online as much as on the streets

Web and social media are helping protesters, but government censors are catching up.

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URGENT - EVERYBODY USING SMS IN IRAN-TELL THEM DONT USE SMS-THEY'RE USING IT TO LOCATE PROTESTORS RT RT #Iranelection #gr88 (via @uxd8)

That re-Tweet, which originated from a mobile phone, popped up on Atash Yaghmaian's Facebook friend feed about an hour after protests against election results began in Tehran last Saturday. Ms. Yaghmaian lives in New York and keeps in touch with family in Iran through Facebook status updates. But by Sunday morning, the Iranian government had shut off intra-country text messaging – cutting off one more way to Tweet.

On the streets of Tehran, Iranian authorities and protestors clash directly but online, a more slippery cat-and-mouse game is playing out. As fast as tech-savvy Iranians find ways to organize and get information out through mobile phones, the Internet, and social media tools, the Iranian government tracks and shuts them down.

"There's huge internet filtering that we haven't seen before," says Mahmood Enayat, an Iranian doctoral student studying censorship at Oxford University's Internet Institute. "It's scary."

Iran can't shut down the Internet completely – that would hobble the state and economy. But its government can and does use formidable monitoring and filtering technology – facilitated by Nokia-Siemens, according to reports this week – or simply blocks access to websites such as Facebook, YouTube, and dissident blogs.

It can also engage in 'astroturfing,' or flooding the Internet with propaganda blogs masquerading as grassroots support. And it can slow Internet bandwidth to prevent the transmission of mobile phone-recorded video. One such video of the shooting of a young woman called Neda turned her almost instantly into an icon in Iran and around the world.

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