Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Never Mind, Iran: Facebook and Twitter Are Blocked Again

The four-year-old campaign of censorship against social media inside Iran is back on.

A day after people in that country discovered that they could access Facebook and Twitter openly and without the help of virtual private network software, access to the sites has again been restricted, according to people in the country and published media reports.

As Thomas Erdbrink, an Iran-based reporter for the New York Times, writes, officials there are blaming a technical problem, not a change in official outlook, for the daylong loosening of restrictions.

The sudden change had briefly raised some hopes that the censorship regime imposed by the Iranian government after protests erupted in the wake of a disputed 2009 presidential election would come to an end. The country’s newly installed president, Hassan Rouhani, has promised an easing of Internet restrictions. Both Rouhani and his foreign minister Javad Sarif have active Twitter accounts. That caused Times reporter Erdbrink to raise the following question via Twitter:

Incidentally, the block also affects YouTube, mainly because it was a video of the shooting death of an Iranian protester named Neda Agha-Soltan that caused a great deal of outrage inside and outside Iran. Of course, that was before the days of what we now call the Arab Spring. Rather than shut down the Internet entirely, as happened in other countries later, the Iranian mullahs opted instead for a more targeted approach.

I bring it up because Google tracks and publishes live data on the the availability of its services in every country in the world. Here’s its graphic on YouTube, going back to June of 2009, when the restrictions were first put in place. (Click to make bigger.)

And, while I know that it’s now sort of dated, it’s worth rereading this essay on the Iranian Internet situation from Jim Cowie at Renesys, a research firm that tracks the ongoing state of the world’s Internet infrastructure. (It is usually the go-to for reliable information when dictators in places like Syria, Libya and Egypt take their countries off the Internet.)

Anyway, sorry, Iran. It was fun while it lasted!

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik