Iran’s Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content has announces that it will be banning WhatsApp. The reason? The ease with which such tools can be used to organize opposition? Nope. Because it’s the leading cause of divorce in religious communities? Nope. (That’s why Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis in some parts of Israel are banning it.) Iran’s reason? It’s been purchased by American Zionist Mark Zuckerburg, and therefore taboo. It has nothing to do with political dissent. Really.
The powers that be may not want to admit it, but social media was a powerful tool during the 2009 protests. Facebook and Twitter were two of the main platforms on which protestors organized, and the government did everything they could to block people’s access during that time.
Word got out that the regime’s web patrollers were tracking dissidents in Iran by the very un-high tech method of following people who had their ‘current city’ field on Facebook set to one of the cities in Iran where protestors were active. This led to a worldwide campaign among those who sympathized with the activists (and many, many people shared the protestors dissatisfaction with the current Iranian government) to set their Facebook locations to Tehran (including yours truly).
Within minutes, those who changed their Facebook locations would receive strange phone calls, often via Skype, from Farsi speaking individuals presumably from the Islamic Republic, as well as experience other oddities with the behavior of their computers. The regime may claim not to fear social media, but the evidence indicates otherwise.
According to some scholars, mainly from the West, Twitter was even more instrumental than Facebook as an organizational tool in 2009, although Iranian academics contend that Twitter was hardly used during the protests. Regardless, the U.S. State Department viewed Twitter as pivotal enough to urge the company to delay scheduled maintenance in order not to deprive the activists of an important tool during a critical juncture. Facebook and Twitter seem to have laid claim to an important role in global geopolitics.