Internet Censorship a Double-Edged Sword for Tehran

By Maysam Bizaer for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.

“Everything stopped suddenly. We are literally out of work now,” Alireza, a 24-year-old university student living in Tehran, told Al-Monitor. He is among many Iranian online entrepreneurs who have suffered major financial losses in recent days due to the authorities’ intensified online filtering, including bans on popular social media platforms such as Telegram and Instagram.

The bans were first imposed Dec. 31, three days after protests first broke out across the country, with Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli saying that some individuals had misused social media networks “to create violence and fear.”

Although the government has moved to lift the ban on Instagram, Telegram has remained blocked, forcing many Iranians to use circumvention apps to bypass the restriction. The government has said that its moves are aimed at protecting society. “If the filtering had not been carried out, social security would have been affected,” Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, the minister of communications and information technology, told local media Jan. 3.

Both Telegram and Instagram had previously been unfiltered in Iran, becoming the most popular social media apps in the country. Telegram has 40 million users, while Instagram has 35 million users in Iran. Against this backdrop, online businesses have rapidly grown over the past few years. With more than 46 million tech-savvy internet users in Iran, the majority of whom are under 35, the country has emerged as a leading startup incubator in the region, and the government considers information and communications technology to be a good option to achieve its job creation goals.

However, with the recent restrictions, many online businesses have been threatened and many e-commerce activists have already felt the hardship.

“We were among the first to kick-start our business on Telegram,” Alireza said. “We spent a lot of money and time in the past three years to attract a total of 350,000 members for our several channels. Our income is through advertising. With the current ban, we don’t have any income.”

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