Activists in Iran are expressing concern over widespread internet outages and the inability of residents to access social media.
Anger has circulated online after more than a week of protests sparked by the death of a Kurdish woman in police custody. Internet monitoring group NetBlocks said Instagram and WhatsApp – two of the main communication tools Iran usually allows – had been restricted.
WhatsApp said it was working to keep Iranian users connected.
The two Meta-owned apps have millions of Iranian users and have grown in popularity after authorities blocked other platforms recently, including Facebook and Twitter.
Telegram, YouTube, and TikTok were also periodically shut down.
The latest intermittent blackouts follow nationwide protests over Mahsa Amini’s death. The 22-year-old had been detained for allegedly failing to adhere to hijab (headscarf) rules.
NetBlocks reported that the internet was partially reconnected on Thursday night but that it was suffering a “nation-scale loss of connectivity” again on Friday.
“People in Iran are being cut off from online apps and services,” Instagram chief Adam Mosseri tweeted, adding, “we hope their right to be online will be reinstated quickly”.
But others accused Meta of being complicit in disconnecting users.
Meta has a team of Persian-speaking reviewers who look at and remove content that violates their rules. If a post that has broken Meta’s community standards has been reported by users or flagged by technology, it will be taken down.
Some shared their evidence that content supporting the Iranian protests had been blocked by Meta.
People also reported not being able to access their WhatsApp accounts even when using a VPN and proxy.
Ordinarily, website access is heavily restricted by government filters, and only those with VPNs can access uncensored content from overseas websites. But this ban seems different.
So what is going on?
The internet blackouts primarily come from Iran’s biggest mobile phone operator being offline. Iran Mobile Communications Company has more than 60 million customers.
Earlier in the week, the communications minister blamed security for the disruption. She says because there is no private broadcast network in Iran, the internet is the “only place” where protesters can share their voices.
Miss Amini’s death has unleashed anger over issues including personal freedoms and economic challenges in Iran.
Protesters – many of whom are women who have been waving and burning their veils – say they fear an escalating crackdown.
“We are worried that the world will forget about Iran as soon as the regime shuts down the internet – which is already happening,” one activist, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.
Most of the protests and campaigns are organised by people over social media, and if they cannot get connected, then it becomes much more difficult to mobilise.