Hi. I’m Maral. Thank you Golan for the intro.

These are key­words or tags that have been used in the stu­dio over the past few days. And for my talk, I have to add one more tag so it’ll be eas­i­er for you to under­stand where I come from and where I stand. It is online pri­va­cy, cen­sor­ship, secu­ri­ty, in the Middle East, and more specif­i­cal­ly in Iran. These are the tags that res­onate with me the most, and this is because they are the clos­est to me because the projects that I’ve worked on are very much relat­ed to these tags.

So why Iran? First of all, I am Iranian. My par­ents are from Iran. I was born in Germany, though. So I have some sort of a cul­tur­al con­nec­tion to that coun­try. And to answer that ques­tion prop­er­ly I have to go a lit­tle bit fur­ther into the past and tell you a lit­tle story. 


We have to go back all the way to 2009. I don’t know if some of you may remem­ber this or not. This is the year where Iran had its pres­i­den­tial elec­tions that quick­ly turned into this mas­sive civ­il move­ment. And this move­ment hap­pened because against all expec­ta­tions the pres­i­dent at the time, Ahmadinejad, who was a hard­lin­er, defeat­ed his oppo­nent from the oppo­si­tion, Mousavi. And the peo­ple did­n’t like that. The result of that was that mil­lions of peo­ple gath­ered in the streets of Iran. And you can see the col­or green here. This is a sym­bol­ic col­or for this move­ment, so this move­ment was called the Green Movement, or the Green Wave.

This is what hap­pened offline in Iran. 

And this is what hap­pened offline in Iran as well, but it also hap­pened online. And not only in Iran. This is Neda, one of the count­less civil­ians who got shot and killed dur­ing the protest in Iran. Her death was one of the most icon­ic” ones, and most viral ones if you want­ed to say that too. And it’s inter­est­ing to see that YouTube nev­er took down this video from the plat­form. Also, this year this death was cap­tured from two dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. So we have two videos of this death being record­ed. And it’s always kind of hard for me to see these videos over and over again. So apolo­gies for that, and also sor­ry if I made you sad with this. But I think it’s impor­tant to see. And also impor­tant for you to under­stand that this is what pissed me off. And this is also what made me do some­thing, not about this, but made me start think­ing about the fol­low­ing things.

The inter­est­ing thing about this is that Iranian pro­tes­tors with mobile phones and cam­eras, they start­ed to become cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists. As soon as the protests in Iran became more vio­lent, jour­nal­ists were kicked out of the coun­try. So we out­side of Iran had to rely on cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists who then report­ed about events like this over YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Not Twitter, not too much. But most­ly YouTube. 

This also annoyed the Iranian author­i­ties. What they did was they restrict­ed the Internet even more than they would do nor­mal­ly. These web sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are nor­mal­ly cen­sored in Iran. So upload­ing a video like this takes you a long time first of all, because the Internet con­nec­tion speed in Iran is real­ly real­ly ter­ri­bly slow. And then if it’s cen­sored it means you need to have cir­cum­ven­tion tools in order to get on these web sites. So [for] this sort of con­tent to be online, I asked myself how the hell do they put this online this quick­ly? And how is it that the Iranian author­i­ties still also get to arrest blog­gers? And that is because dur­ing the protests, what they also did is the author­i­ties nev­er actu­al­ly switched off the Internet entire­ly because they want­ed to track down the peo­ple who upload these kinds of videos, which result­ed in a lot of arrests of online activists” and offline activists” as well.

So I got curi­ous, and I asked myself what is the Iranian Internet, and who is the Iranian user? I was pissed off enough, like I said, to take a step or to feel the urge to do some­thing. To feel the urge of mak­ing some­thing. And the thing that I real­ly want­ed to bring across was that cen­sor­ship is hap­pen­ing in a dif­fer­ent coun­try, where it’s being used to bring across infor­ma­tion, to make voic­es heard. 

So what did I do? I applied for an MA at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam in Germany. I got accept­ed, and I start­ed find­ing out more, with­out know­ing what the end result should be. I’m a design­er, so I’m not a actu­al­ly a researcher, but I had to get in touch with a lot of oth­er peo­ple who knew a lot more than me. So I spoke to jour­nal­ists, activists, blog­gers, you name it. And then start­ed draw­ing the big­ger pic­ture in the way that I would under­stand it.

The Information Pool

From The Iranian Internet, at Visualoop.

This is the infor­ma­tion pool. This is how I like to refer to it. And what I did here is that I start­ed clus­ter­ing and relat­ing the infor­ma­tion that I got. And then I start­ed sim­pli­fy­ing what you see here, even though it’s quite easy to under­stand, but even more boiled down. 


So I start­ed struc­tur­ing it fur­ther. There’s a step between this and that, but I want to show you oth­er things as well. This is the end result, which answers the ques­tion for me about what the Iranian Internet is and who the Iranian user is. This visu­al­iza­tion basi­cal­ly drills through the var­i­ous fields of the Iranian Internet. And what I’m going to do now is to walk you through the dif­fer­ent panels.


This is the first pan­el, and it’s based on num­bers that I got. It’s basi­cal­ly telling you about the Internet pen­e­tra­tion in Iran and where you are con­nect­ed and where you’re not con­nect­ed. So peo­ple who are in urban areas, they are the only ones who have access to the Internet, to the infra­struc­tures of the Internet. And the num­ber of Internet users is not a num­ber you can rely on. You get dif­fer­ent num­bers from dif­fer­ent insti­tu­tions and the gov­ern­ment itself, it tells you one thing a week from now and then two weeks lat­er they tell you a dif­fer­ent thing. So you can’t rely on the num­bers you get there. Instead of find­ing only one num­ber, I decid­ed to visu­al­ize the prob­lem and show the view­er of this project that there is intrans­paren­cy hap­pen­ing; there is a con­flict of numbers. 


The sec­ond pan­el is basi­cal­ly look­ing at the black part of the pre­vi­ous pan­el, which is where the con­nec­tion hap­pens [when] you’re online. This illus­trates what—the Internet is not a geo­graph­ic place, but if it was, what would it look like in the Iranian con­text? So if you look at this, in the core of this visu­al­iza­tion you have the so-called halal Internet” which is a pure and cen­sored Internet that Iran is try­ing to achieve. The thick­er lines sym­bol­ize slow con­nec­tions. And the dark, big squares are the Iranian ISPs and the white ones are the ISPs that are not in Iran. 


Then you go even fur­ther. You can see that there are gaps with­in these bor­ders, and so this is what we look at in the next pan­el, where I try to describe the two most com­mon cir­cum­ven­tion tools that peo­ple use to get to blocked con­tent. And those are VPN con­nec­tions and using a Tor brows­er to get online. Once you have that, what can you do? 


I was look­ing at a real­ly small part of the blo­gos­phere. Here are only four sec­tions of it. So you have WordPress, Blogger, Iranian blog hosts, and pri­vate domains. The inter­est­ing thing about the Iranian blog hosts is that if you decide to put a blog online on an Iranian blog host, they have the author­i­ty of entire­ly delet­ing all your con­tent from one day to the oth­er if they are not hap­py with it. What they can’t do is to delete a blog on a non-Iranian blog host. So a lot of peo­ple decide to go on Blogger. One thing that is also inter­est­ing is that this is sliced into three dif­fer­ent loca­tions. The core is the peo­ple who are liv­ing inside Iran. The mid­dle one is peo­ple who have an unknown loca­tion. And the out­side one would be the peo­ple who live out­side Iran. 

What was inter­est­ing with the small sam­ple of data that I had, I saw that a cou­ple of peo­ple out­side of Iran decid­ed to have blogs on Iranian blog hosts. That can have sev­er­al rea­sons. You either want to be able to have infor­ma­tion avail­able for peo­ple who are in the coun­try for a spe­cif­ic time. Say you’re an activist from out­side and you want to get infor­ma­tion inside. The eas­i­est way is to use an Iranian blog host. But that also means as soon as they see that you’re writ­ing crit­i­cal con­tent, they take your blog out. This is the way that I would like to think about those out­siders, but they could also just be hard­lin­ers them­selves or just curi­ous about [test­ing?] oth­er things.


Then I asked myself who are the peo­ple who are the online activists? Who are the peo­ple who are writ­ing these blogs, for exam­ple. This pan­el is look­ing at cyber-criminals as described by the author­i­ties in Iran. You can see five sto­ries here of peo­ple who have faced some trou­ble with the author­i­ties. The guy in the mid­dle [Omid Mir Sayafi], he was the first blog­ger who died in prison. What hap­pens to blog­gers and activists in Iran is that they just get treat­ed like crim­i­nals who mur­der peo­ple, peo­ple who rape, like actu­al crim­i­nals, real­ly real­ly hard­core crim­i­nals. And they get tor­tured. So for exam­ple Omid, he was arrest­ed twice. The con­tent that he wrote on his blog was just satir­i­cal poems, and he was writ­ing about music. That was all. So it’s super arbi­trary. You can’t real­ly pre­dict whether you fall under a spe­cif­ic cri­te­ria of the regime that makes you a dis­si­dent. Sometimes you don’t even know that you are a dis­si­dent, which is also real­ly painful.


The last pan­el would be to show where the pow­er comes from. What is the gov­ern­men­tal struc­ture that actu­al­ly makes the deci­sions of arrest­ing these peo­ple, or mak­ing laws, or con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing the stu­pid halal inter­net, right? I won’t go into detail because this is not made for the screen. This is made for exhi­bi­tion pur­pos­es. And I’m real­ly grate­ful for this cre­at­ing some noise. I just put it out and then real­ly quick­ly it gen­er­at­ed a lot of noise, which is awe­some. Which was exact­ly what I want­ed, because peo­ple start­ed talk­ing about this. And I think also it gen­er­at­ed noise because it was a con­ve­nient point in time to speak about Iran first of all, and about visu­al­iza­tions as well. 

One thing that hap­pened after this, because this was an MA, it was­n’t made for the screen. There was nev­er an online ver­sion of this. A friend of mine said we need to do some­thing about this, we need to make this more acces­si­ble for peo­ple who aren’t in the space. He’s a film­mak­er and he put this into motion, and I’m going to show this to you now.

This is basi­cal­ly sum­ming up every­thing that I said before in just three min­utes. And it’s share­able online, which is great. And just a side­note, it won an award just recent­ly, final­ly. Thank you.