Documenting Human Rights Violations in Challenging Environments

Facebook and the 2009 Elections

Iran unblocked Facebook for the first time in January 2009, but reinstituted the ban during three key campaign days in May after Iranian authorities realized opposition candidates were using the site to rally support. The page of candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, as of February 2013, had 8,288 supporters.

How were people able to look at Facebook despite the ban? People used VPNs, and IP blocking programs such as TOR. You will learn about these circumventing tools in Lesson Five.

While Facebook can be useful for collecting information, there are some downsides to using the social media site.


  • Some governments block Facebook at times of political significance or all the time to stem the flow of information and prevent citizens from organizing online.
  • Witnesses using Facebook to spread information about an event may be at risk if the government sees what they are posting.
  • The content, information and applications are hosted and maintained by Facebook and thus not under the control of providers or users.
  • There is a risk of receiving viruses and other malicious data through Facebook.
  • If Facebook is your only source of information, most of your information will come from individuals in urban areas with high Internet penetration. You may lack representation from people who don't use it or don't have Internet access.