In most countries around the world, the worst thing that you have to worry about when using social media is saying the wrong thing that could ruin your reputation or cost you a job. You typically don’t have to worry about being arrested for posting Instagram pictures of your new clothes landing you in jail. In Iran, many social media users are facing criminal charges for just that.
The Centre for Investigation of Organised Crime in Iran is the group that is tasked with monitoring social media and other internet platforms for crimes of immorality. This even includes fashion as there are very strict rules in Islamic culture. A large monitoring investigation was carried out by the CIOC, and they are now either detaining or issuing court summons for 450 people that they have considered to be breaking immorality laws.
Iranian cyber patrol Gherdab said that “These people were carrying out immoral activities, insulted religious beliefs or had illegal activities in the field of fashion.” Even getting on social media is tricky in Iran as the largest social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked. However, a majority of Iran’s population is on the internet, with many of them trying to get access to international news through social media. Some of these people have used foreign IP addresses to access social media.
Many of the arrests came from users of three major websites; WhatsApp, Telegram and Instagram. The first two are messaging apps with millions of users, including more than 20 million in Iran alone. Instagram, of course, is the popular photo sharing app that is used by 500 million people around the world each month.
Some of the people that are being detained were considered Instagram models who would often post pictures online that were considered immoral in their home country. Most of these were women that were not covering their heads, which can lead to serious criminal charges in Iran. Not everyone is a fan of the crackdown, including Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani who said that it is not a productive or effective use of time to monitor social media for violations of fashion.
There is precedent as to what type of punishment that the newest wave of people arrested is, as several have been arrested in the past. The Islamic Republic once came across a video of six Iranians posting a video where they were dancing to the popular song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. The six people in the video were forced to spend a year in prison and were given 91 lashes.
Another interesting fact about internet in Iran is the fact that they are making their country’s access to high speed internet much easier, with an increase in data centers and high speed cables that will make it run 60 times faster in the near future. However, this does not include access to some of the most used websites in the rest of the world. With a more moderate President in place there might be change, but don’t expect it to come soon as more crackdowns are still to come.