Free internet in Iran … but only for a moment
For a brief moment, it seemed as if Iranians could use social media freely again for the first time in four years, but after only a day of unrestricted access, the limitations returned following what has now been called a "technical glitch."
Restrictions on internet freedom in Iran are unlike many other countries who experience such limitations, like China. In the latter country, expression over the web has always been blocked thanks to what has come to be known as the "Great Firewall of China," however, the history of online censorship has been different in Iran. Before 2009, citizens could freely access many websites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube could be freely accessed, but following a controversial presidential election, this precedent changed.
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected in 2009, suspicions grew surrounding how legitimate his victory was. As a result, many people took to the streets in protest of the supposedly fraudulent results. Protests were organized using social media like Facebook and Twitter, the same tools that were used two years later during the Arab Spring. However, because of these protests, the Iranian government put up blocks on internet access in the country to prevent such actions from happening again.
A day of freedom?
That was until September 17 when Iranians saw these restrictions removed. As people began to realize the new found freedom that they had over cyberspace, they began to tweet and post without having to navigate around the various blocks they previously needed to. Middle East Online reported that one user tweeted, "Dear friends in America, do you believe miracles?! Well one has just apparently happened in Iran and the government in Tehran has lifted its filtering on Facebook!!!"
Other tweets that surfaced thanked the new President Hassan Rhowani for what they believed was a permanent removal of the restrictions that came about during the previous presidency. Greater social and individual freedoms was one of the major platforms on which Rhowani ran on which was why many people believed that he was responsible for these actions.
A "technical glitch"
Unfortunately these freedoms were short lived as the same restrictions were reinstated the next day. The government has reportedly credited the day as a technical glitch, however, many organizations are reporting that it may have been a test to see how the Iranian people would react to such freedoms. Al Arabiya explains in an op-ed piece that though the government has said it is looking into the causes of this shortcoming, it may have actually been a way for the government to gauge the reaction of the people.
The news source points out that many of the country's political authorities use the banned social media sites such as the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mohamed Jawad Zarif along with the Supreme Leader himself, Ali Khamenei. This creates an unfortunate irony in the country as the ruling powers that control internet usage seem to utilize the very outlets that they seek to prevent.
On top of this, the news source explains, it is no secret that the citizens within the country also use navigate around the blocks, as thousands of Iranians access the free internet everyday. The source contends that for this reason, the ruling regime was giving "dosages" of freedom for the people to gauge how they would handle it, in an attempt to measure how close or far the country is to returning to the actions seen in 2009.
It is important to keep in mind, that the source is an opinion piece. However, the issues it raises are worth discussing. What is the function of such control over the internet even when citizens navigate around it, and what do these tests say about the relationship between the people and the government?