President Barack Obama in his Nowruz address to the Iranian people coined the term “electronic curtain” to describe the lack of access to online information in Iran. (Please see “Iran’s Electronic Curtain” for more.) Now, the United States government has launched a campaign based upon the phrase. Last week, the State Department posted an animated video to illustrate its perspective on the situation. The video, titled “Behind the Electronic Curtain,” depicts an Iranian internet user who is constantly blocked from the websites he attempts to access.
The video can be seen on the U.S. Virtual Embassy to Tehran. All of the text in the video appears in English and Farsi in an effort to reach Iranian audiences. However, the virtual embassy is still inaccessible from Iran’s national intranet. This might actually be a good thing. The video won’t do much to help relations between America and Iran.
On the surface, the animation might seem a crude attempt to simplify the situation. In reality, animation is a common way of illustrating the issues surrounding the internet. See for example Free Press’ video about net neutrality. But it’s hard to overlook the fact that the video demonizes Tehran. The Iranian government appears large, dark and menacing. Put that image together with the foreboding music and the message is clear: the Iranian government is bad.
The U.S. government is promoting the video in English, Chinese, Farsi, and Arabic with the Twitter hashtag #ConnectIran. The video has yet to make a splash, eliciting only brief commentary in several public diplomacy blogs such as John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review. Most of the promotional tweets thus far have come from State Department employees. It will be interesting to see whether the video attracts more attention in the coming days. Despite not being the most sophisticated product, the video does hold true to the State Department’s ideals of internet freedom.