Iran authorities arrested five social media users on security charges, in the latest incident about the country’s censorship policies. According to the Judiciary Spokesman, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, he was quoted as saying several members of a group which systematically took steps against security and called for illegal activities on social media were identified and arrested by the security forces. He also said that more people may be arrested as part of the same operation.
Almost 50% of the top 500 visited websites in the world are blocked in Iran. Initially, internet usage was relatively open but many users saw the Internet as a way to get around the country’s strict press laws. Online censorship was established by the Iranian authorities because activists use social networks to coordinate anti-government protests in 2009. Many online activists and bloggers have faced jail terms due to the internet censorship. Interestingly, the president Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Affairs minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei all have Twitter accounts with sizable follower counts.
The Iranian Communications Minister, Mahmoud Vaezi introduced in December a smart filtering policy to improve the efficiency of Iran’s censorship. The state television reported on March this year that 8 million Facebook accounts were monitored with new software and will watch other social media sites that contravene with the Iran’s moral codes. However, millions of Iranians use virtual private networks to bypass those restrictions so as to access social media sites.
Other countries where the government has a stringent internet censorship policy include China, Syria, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Cuba.
According to a survey done by the Internet Society in 2012, 86% of respondents somewhat or strongly agree that freedom of expression should be guaranteed on the Internet. 71% of the respondents somewhat or strongly agreed some form of censorship should exist in the internet. 58% of the respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that increased government control of the Internet will make it safe for everyone to use. Judging from these statistics, there are shifting opinions about internet censorship worldwide but generally people agree that the Internet should be a place where people should freely express their opinions.