Iranian demonstrators are struggling to get access to the internet and social media platforms — vital for communication, organization and safety.
According to Netblocks, a group that tracks internet freedom and connectivity, the Iranian government began blocking web access last month after Mahsa Amini was arrested for not wearing a hijab according to standards, and later died in police custody. Since then, Iran has continued to conduct blackouts in protest hot spots, and place curfews on mobile data.
"Some of the last remaining platforms that were previously available have been restricted nationwide in a coordinated manner. So, this now includes Whatsapp and Instagram, and also interestingly Skype and even Linkedin," said Alp Toker, the director of Netblocks.
The crackdown is working.
"We have seen that these methods have really resulted in the effective silencing of these voices of dissent over women's rights," said Toker.
Online access has also been stifled by social media giants, which have had to juggle keeping communication channels open for Iranians, while staying in compliance with U.S. sanctions on the country.
"In more recent years, companies like Meta have made an effort to try to increase their awareness of the more global issues. But at the same time, the world has become more and more reliant on this different kind of centralization, which means relying on these big tech platforms for communications. That means that they hold a lot of responsibility, and the calls they make aren't always the right ones," said Toker.
Those decisions can leave people disconnected and voiceless.
"The only way people can access the internet is trying and testing all the virtual private network applications. But they cannot do that because Apple’s app store is not providing services in Iran. Google’s app store did the same thing as well. So, Iranian users are having to go to the Iranian app store, which is not providing a VPN. So literally you see it's a like a it's like a broken loop. It's not working at all," said Asma Karoobi, CEO & Co-founder at VGANG.
Karoobi and dozens of other Iranian tech activists are calling on Silicon Valley-based companies to support Iranians by circumventing internet censorship. They're also pushing for them to help implement General License D-2, which would expand the range of internet services available to Iranians. The move already has the support of the U.S. Department of Treasury.
"There are committees that are trying to provide internet or access to the internet for places they are not developed. There should be other committees to help people just have secure internet access, or at least in emergency cases," Karoobi said.