One day after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for new curtailments to internet freedom in Iran, the communications minister used an online chat app to call Iran’s old method of blocking websites “obsolete”.
In a virtual meeting on the social networking app Clubhouse, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said on Monday: “The blocking of websites with past methods is obsolete. This is the belief of most experts. An effective way to play a role is to rely on the creative younger generation and compete with international platforms. Internal barriers and narrow-mindedness must be removed. We have capable youth."
The choice of platform was apt. Clubhouse was launched in April 2020 by two UK-based entrepreneurs and gained popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 13 million downloads by iPhone users in its first year. This month a former Netflix executive became its global head of marketing.
Iran, meanwhile, recently ranked the second-worst country in the world after China for internet freedom in Freedom House’s annual Freedom on the Net report. Social networking platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram are banned together with 35 percent of the world’s most-visited websites.
During the November 2019 protests, the government imposed a nationwide blanket shutdown of the internet to try to suppress demonstrations. For years the country has sought to establish a closed domestic internet known as the National Information Network. But for the time being at least, Iranians are still able to use VPNs and other censorship circumvention tools to get online.
"Education in cyberspace,” Azari Jahromi also said in his message, “is like education in real space. Those who think the responsibility for raising their children in cyberspace lies solely with the government [should] take a look at the children of officials around them. Many were unable even to raise their own children. Do you expect them to educate the community?"
The Islamic Republic’s communications minister also stressed: “The knowledge of students and adolescents in how to use cyberspace is greater than that of their parents.
“This is no small challenge to our society; the generation gap in cyberspace is even more serious. The gap will not be filled with filters and restrictions; we have to repair it with continuous, effective education. Fundamental, not superficial, work must be done.”
In a speech the previous day, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had claimed foreign spy networks were using the internet to discourage Iranians from political participation, and said internet freedom was “not something to be proud of at all”. The digital sphere, he asserted, should not be “ceded to the enemy”.