Tasnim News Agency [CC BY 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
It is a busy weekend for oppressive governments attempting to suppress digital communication. Iran has prohibited mobile access to at least Instagram and Telegram as it attempts to prevent protests that began over economic concerns (particularly on inflation). However, it has extended into wider resistance to the government and administrative rule. Officials claim that the censorship is intended to “maintain peace.” However, the said argument does not hold water. Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram, noted that his company declined to shut down “peacefully protesting channels,” and Instagram is primarily being utilised to document the protests — Iran clearly does not want to expose the extent of the demonstrations.
There are also various reports of Iran preventing mobile internet access in numerous cities, even though the full extent is not clear. The Iran Student News Agency noted that desktop access to Telegram was working just fine, so this seems to be more of an effort to meddle on-the-ground protest coordination and citizen journalism instead of a blanket ban.
Officials have claimed that the prohibitions are just ‘temporary’ measures. However, it is safe to say they will continue for as long as the government of Iran believes that the protests pose an increasing threat to its authority. The country has a history of blocking VPNs, Instagram, and other services that aid its residents to have access to the uncensored internet. The question is whether or not this move will be effective. As Egypt discovered early this decade, an adequately motivated public is not going to stay off the streets just because they cannot get online. There are usually ways to get around the censorship, too. In other words: blocking like this is considered as a momentary roadblock instead of anything else.