The weeks following the death of 22-year-old Masha Amini on 16 September in Iran have been filled with turmoil. People have taken to the streets in protest of the regime. In response to these mass protests, the Iranian regime has employed a tactic not unfamiliar to them. A hard crackdown on internet connectivity in an attempt to limit connection to the outside world and to make Iran a digital blind spot for the global community.
Back in November 2019 Iran also used a similar tactic, shutting down internet connectivity for a week in order to suppress protests in the streets. This shutdown is known as the first-ever shutdown in a large country and led to the isolation of the entire nation.
Now the Iranian government is trying to do the same thing. From the moment the people took to the streets, mobile connectivity has been cut and social media like Instagram and WhatsApp have been blocked.
The result of this crackdown on connectivity is that a lot of the violence during the protests becomes invisible to the outside world. The use of teargas and violent arrests is known, but the scale of it is less visible due to the internet shutdown.
Doctor Fabio Cristiano is specialized in conflict and the digital world. “What is different with this shutdown compared to the shutdown in 2019, is that this is much more sophisticated”, he says.
Back in 2019, it was a complete shutdown. This time around, it is more targeted. The Iranian regime uses a curfew-style shutdown, says Cristiano. Mobile providers have been losing connectivity for around 12 hours at a time. Authorities would plan the exact moments the shutdowns would occur, in order to minimize the negative effects on the government itself.
They employ a filtering strategy. Instead of blocking all of the internet connection. They Are focusing on specific apps and content. On the question of why Instagram and WhatsApp specifically are targeted, Cristiano explains that there are two things the Iranian government wants to get done with these blocks. On the one hand, protesters are prevented from communicating and organizing themselves, and on the other hand, they hide the conflict from the outside world. There is also a block on content. ‘’For instance, we can see for instance that text messages containing Amini’s name have been blocked, while other messages can come through”, says Cristiano.
This radio report delves deeper into the topic and also offers the perspective of an Iranian woman in the Netherlands, who is unable to contact her family in Iran because of these shutdowns.