Digital media has worldwide influence

Insiders talk social networking, politics at event

NEW YORK -- The political state of affairs in Iran and the role of digital media in the organization of protests in the country was the center of attention at the Personal Democracy Forum conference on Tuesday.

Randi Zuckerberg, marketing manager at Facebook, expressed concern over the recent decline in usage of the networking site in Iran. "Our data has shown that our usage has dropped by 50%, which tells us that people are having trouble accessing the site," she said, hinting at a possible government crackdown. "It's disappointing, because now more than ever, they need this source to communicate with one another and share their opinions with the world."

Zuckerberg also discussed how politicians and political junkies worldwide have been using Facebook, including Mir-Hossein Moussavi, whose page has grown to over 100,000 fans since the elections as individuals around the world show their support for the would-be president. "The small things we do online provoke big change," she said.

Meanwhile, Alec Ross, senior advisor for innovation in the Office of Secretary of State, discussed new strategies involving the use of Internet to connect the government and its policies to people around the world and vice-versa.

"Because of the Internet and videos our leaders now have the ability to speak directly to the citizens of other countries, such as Iran," he said.

Ross cited the release of a video from President Barack Obama to the Iranian people as a big success. It "had a huge impact throughout Central Asia and Iran," and "This type of communication from government to people worked," he said.

The use of social networks has become the rule rather than the exception, making for greater potential for political upheaval as well, he suggested. "You can find like-minded people and then drive the actions of governments and oppose the (bad) ones," he said.