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Iran Cuts Off Social Media and Some Internet Access as Protests Continue

People gather to protest in Tehran on Dec. 30, 2017 Anadolu Agency Getty Images

As violent protests in Iran continue into their fourth day, the Iranian authorities have restricted access to social media tools being used to organize them, and in some regions have reportedly shut down internet access altogether.

CNN reports that Iran has restricted access to Instagram and Telegram, a secure messaging app. In a statement, Iran’s interior minister said that social networks are “causing violence and fear.”

Telegram CEO Pavel Durov acknowledged the shutdown on Twitter, saying it followed “our public refusal to shut down . . . peacefully protesting channels.” In a blog post, Durov wrote that Telegram “would rather get blocked in a country by its authorities than limit peaceful expression of alternative opinions.”

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Telegram had previously complied with an Iranian government request to shut down a channel that had called for violent attacks on authorities. Durov famously left Russia after conflicts over privacy with the Kremlin.

The Iranian restrictions appear to have gone beyond social media. Saudi-backed news service Al Arabiya this morning reported that Iranian telecom providers have actually blocked internet access in several cities. Iran’s major internet service providers are reportedly either directly owned by or closely tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a military body that also has substantial political and economic reach.

The Iranian protests are driven in part by economic discontent. They are the largest protests in the country since 2009’s “Green Revolution,” in which social media including Twitter played a major – though perhaps exaggerated – role.

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