Western social media firms under fire as Iranians hint at dialogue over censorship

Several social media companies in the West have been criticised for a perceived lack of transparency in alleged talks with the Iranian authorities on censoring content to the approval of the country’s strict religious authorities.

Instagram, currently available in the country – as well as Twitter and YouTube, which are blocked but widely visited by Iranians using proxy servers – have all been reported by local media in recent weeks as as co-operating with the authorities to aid them in blocking or censoring “immoral” content.

Newly installed communications minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi has been clear that he intends to shake up the status quo, promising citizens easier access to the internet and app platforms.

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He has been quoted in several Iranian newspapers as claiming that the government is in fresh talks with social media companies to allow them to operate more freely within Iran as long as they adhere to the country’s strict “morality” rules. 

“[Twitter] has announced that it is prepared to negotiate to resolve problems,“ he told a daily newspaper last week, adding that officials had also reached out to YouTube representatives. 

In news reports earlier this month, outgoing communications minister Mahmoud Vaezi said that the Supreme Council of Cyberspace (SCC) had also begun talks with managers at photo-based service Instagram to block “immodest” pages from being viewed within the country. 

“We have contacted the managers of Instagram and they have responded that they are ready to from a moral perspective to filter pages that have criminal content,” Mr Vaezi was quoted as saying.

Representatives for Twitter, YouTube and Instagram did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Independent. 

Mr Azari Jahromi is, at 36, Iran’s youngest ever minister, and the first to be born after the 1979 Islamic revolution. His appointment in newly re-elected moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet has been criticised by human rights groups, however, who do not trust his intentions. They say he was involved in surveillance efforts during the mass anti-regime protests of 2009 – a claim the minister denies. 

Since violent and pornographic material is removed under the various platforms’ terms of service anyway, freedom of expression watchdogs are…

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