New Yorkers lend virtual hand to Iranian counterparts

(Credit: Urbanite)

Supporters of Iran's opposition movement rally in Union Square late Wednesday.

By Emily Ngo

Mirroring a movement that has mobilized hundreds of thousands of protesters halfway across the world in Tehran, Iran, New Yorkers are taking to the streets and social networking sites to lend their support.

Facebook and Twitter — where photos are swapped, protests organized and news updates shared — have given supporters a viral stake in Iran’s disputed presidential elections.

“We live in a globalized world,” said Saeed Rahimi, 33, of TriBeCa. “They’ve touched our hearts via new media, and we want to show them that we’re here for them.”

The Iranian government has been largely unsuccessful in quashing the use of Facebook, Twitter and the like, which New Yorkers used to organize at a Union Square protest late Wednesday. Many of the roughly 600 attendees wore green ribbons as headbands and carried signs denouncing violence in Iran.

Hundreds are expected at a similar protest set for 2 p.m. Saturday at the United Nations headquarters. Tech-savvy supporters also are organizing a Global Protest Day at 10 a.m. on Saturday.“New media is really important because we are able to get internal reports from abroad,” said Sahar Vahidi, 22, who designed the fliers for the rally and follows about 10 Iranian students on Twitter. “Things we really have no way of seeing through own eyes.”

Web sites, such as and Twitter applications such as one that turns members’ photos green (the color of reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi’s campaign) are further uniting dissidents. Tweets under the IranElection tag, which rocketed past the 221,000-per-hour mark on Wednesday, averaged 4,000 per hour on Thursday.

“There is no question that the use of cell phones and the Internet … has ushered in a new era of global ‘people’s reporting,’ ” said Frederick Shiels, a foreign policy expert at Mercy College. “Blocking attempts [by the Iranian government] have been “too little, too late.”

In Union Square, some protesters argued that both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the apparent winner of the June 12 election, and runner-up Mir Hossein Mousavi are corrupt.

“It’s a double-edged sword and both edges are going to stab them in the back,” said Beheshteh Farshneshani, 23, an Upper East Sider who wore a version of the Iranian flag as a dress.

The rallies are meant to grab the attention of the all-powerful supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and the Guardian Council, Farshneshani said.

“We’re here for change,” said Amir Haven, 29, of the West Village. “We need democracy instead of being preached to by a supreme leader who rules the country."

Tags: iran , protest , union square , twitter , facebook , politics , international , manhattan

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