Communication is a vital part of warfare. From counterinsurgencies to conventional force-on-force battles to the war of ideas, communication is a linchpin. Thanks to the internet, interaction is easier than ever, and there are few better examples of its power to connect people than the current protests in Iran.
Liberty Nation has covered the Iranian protests, both the protests themselves and the diplomatic implications here at home, but what is interesting is the method in which the Iranian government is trying to stifle the demonstrations: stopping their ability to communicate and organize.
Social Media and the Protester
Much like we saw in the Ukrainian uprising and the Arab Spring, social media was a primary method of organization and communication for protest leaders and those “manning the barricades.” Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media apps, organizers have been able to put together the most massive protests in Iran since the Green Movement in 2009. The government, in exchange, has blocked access to these apps.
One app, in particular, has caused some backlash. Telegram, a communications app used by about half of Iranians for sending encrypted messaging, files, and videos, is a significant part of the social media presence in Iran. It is used by individuals and businesses not only for its encrypted messaging ability but because it is often cheaper to use Telegram than conventional communications methods, especially when contacting people overseas.
Circumventing Censorship and Calls for Aid
Iranians are already familiar with government censorship, and a culture of circumvention exists within Iran’s internet users. Many use virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around censorship methods. Another tactic is finding and using alternate apps. As the app marketplace is ever-expanding, new means of communication are easy to find. The Iranian Government has been forced to play “whack-a-mole” to stop the transmissions, leading them to shut down the internet entirely in some areas.
Reza Pahlavi, former Crown Prince of Iran and son of the overthrown Shah, said in an interview with Reuters that the United States must assist Iranians in their opposition to the government. Various sanctions keep U.S. tech companies from fully operating in Iran. Reza believes exemptions should be added to provide communications ability to the protestors despite the Iranian government’s attempt to stifle it.
It would not be the first time the United States government has worked with tech companies over the Iranian issue. In 2009, the Obama administration worked with Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance to permit Iranians the ability to communicate further. Former President Obama also approved sanction exemptions that allowed chat, email, and social networking services. Many companies, however, still decline service to Iran for fear of violating current sanctions.
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