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A Partial Eclipse of the Net: Iran's Social Media Shutdown in Global Perspective

January 22, 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Jan Rydzak
Event Sponsor: 
Hamid and Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies, Global Digital Policy Incubator
Photo of Jan Rydzak

In the final few days of 2017, millions of people in Iran were thrown into digital darkness. Amid massive socioeconomic protests, the Iranian government shut down Telegram and Instagram—two highly popular apps that the protesters used to, respectively, coordinate the movement and broadcast it to the world. A series of additional disruptions followed before the demonstrations subsided in early January. But Iran is by no means a unique case among the global community. Between 2011 and 2017, approximately 40 countries carried out as many as 277 known, deliberate, large-scale disruptions to electronic communication. In 2018, one country alone was responsible for 130 more, primarily in an attempt to stifle protest. How do the events that unfolded in Iran compare to global dynamics? What are the economic costs of network shutdowns, and can they be estimated accurately in the Iranian case? Do shutdowns truly spread chaos among the coordinators of protest in the era of leaderless movements, and are they effective as a means of suppressing protest? This talk will frame the digital communication blackout in Iran against broader global dynamics, engaging the audience to discuss their repercussions on human rights, the digital economy, and the organization of collective action in the streets.

Jan Rydzak is the Associate Director for Program at Stanford's Global Digital Policy Incubator (GDPi). He holds a PhD in Government & Public Policy from the University of Arizona as well as an MA in Modern Languages from Poland. Jan has worked at the intersection of human rights research, policy, and communication in various environments, including the European Commission and the multi-stakeholder Global Network Initiative, where he completed a Google Policy Fellowship. His doctoral dissertation, titled "A Total Eclipse of the Net: The Dynamics of Network Shutdowns and Collective Action Responses," focused on massive disruptions to digital communication and their effects on protest, both cross-nationally and within individual countries. Most recently, he published a report on human rights and shutdowns through GNI as well as commentary in Foreign Policy. He is professionally interested in digital activism and repression, the linguistic aspects of disinformation and content moderation, and the use of technology for humanitarian aid and development. He tweets at @ElCalavero.

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WJP Conference room, Encina Hall Central

Free and open to the public. No RSVP required. Lunch will be served. 

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