The Iranian National Cyberspace Council has approved measurements to block Instagram, which will affect some 24 million users in the country. It is the only major social media service still officially available in the country, which already blocks Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
“Instagram unfortunately has not only illegal but also immoral and obscene content,” said a representative from the state prosecution service’s IT commissary.
While the argument of immorality has been cited by officials, observers claim that the ban is politically motivated. The popular apps have often been used as a vehicle for the dissemination of anti-government messages.
In April 2018 users of Telegram, the country’s favorite messaging app, found themselves without access to its voice call feature. This came after the arrest of 12 people associated with running popular reformist channels on the app.
This won’t be the first time the photo-sharing social network has been banned, with intermittent government blocks hindering Iranians’ ability to access content throughout 2017 and 2018.
During protests brought about by worsening economic conditions in the country in 2018, Instagram was temporarily blocked, a move that US President Donald Trump’s administration openly criticized.
Despite the ban, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has a thriving Instagram account with over two million followers, 1,000 posts, and the coveted blue tick that signals its officiality.
Rouhani also has not one, but two official Twitter accounts, despite the network’s ban which came into effect 10 years ago in 2009. Even former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was behind the 2009 ban has an active Twitter account now.
Internet censorship is common practice in Iran, which is branded as ‘not free’ in Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom on the Net report.
While ISPs comply with the Iranian authorities’ orders to block access to certain websites and online services, it doesn’t stop some Iranian citizens from circumventing censorship with the use of a VPN.
A VPN is a tool that encrypts internet traffic and hides a user’s original IP address, replacing it with a new one associated with another country, thus unblocking restricted content.
Using a VPN not approved by the government is illegal, though, making it ever more difficult to access restricted content from within the country.