Political activists and protesters around the world are increasingly using social networks to organize themselves and spread information among various groups. But governments targeted by their actions are not falling behind, either, in recognizing the internet for the powerful tool, and even a weapon, that it now represents in political and social struggles.
Internet bans, blocks, and shutdowns are nothing new in Iran – and on November 16, NetBlocks, an NGO billing itself as “the internet’s observatory,” declared on Twitter that the country was “in the midst of a near-total national internet shutdown.”
On November 17, the organization said that connectivity in Iran had dropped to only 5 percent of regular levels.
By drastically throttling internet traffic, the authorities are apparently trying to maintain control over protests that originally erupted over a fuel price hike.
Iran is one of the countries most strongly associated with the rise cyber terrorism. Iranians are still able to use their phones, but only to call certain countries and while being monitored by the state.
One the other hand, Iran-based users are still tweeting, including photos and videos of the protests.
The discontent was triggered by the decision of Iran’s authorities to raise the oil-rich country’s super-low prices of fuel by 50 percent. However, the unrest then reportedly started to gain political overtones, including chants against the president.
Tehran’s sensitivity to any civil unrest is likely particularly heightened at this time, as violent anti-government protests continue in neighboring Iraq. According to the UN, the Iraq demonstrations have so far claimed 319 lives, while that country’s authorities have also gone for intermittently shutting down the internet and blocking social media sites in the hope of gaining the upper hand over the escalating situation.
One way to limit the number of people taking part in the protests and media reports about them is to disrupt the internet, NetBlocks said. The NGO also qualified the latest internet shutdown in Iran as a severe violation of citizens’ rights.