Week in Review: January 5, 2018

by Dan Bateyko

Iran blocks access to social media amid widespread protests

The Iranian government has blocked social media and messaging apps including Telegram and Instagram following anti-government demonstrations. Iranian Internet technicians have also been ordered to disrupt international traffic, according to an article from the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

An Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) report released on Friday confirmed the Iranian block of Telegram and Instagram, which began on December 31, 2017. According to the Netizen Report, "of the 45 million Iranians who are online, 40 million use Telegram for everything from staying in touch with family and friends to reading news and keeping up on public events—including protests."

The report also found that the Tor network, used for anonymity and censorship circumvention, has been blocked or otherwise disrupted across Iranian ISPs. Other digital censorship circumvention tools hosted on cloud infrastructure providers such as DigitalOcean have also experienced disruptions.

The messaging app Telegram became popular after Viber, another messaging app, had been blocked by authorities. Other social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, have been blocked in the country since 2009, following the Green Movement protests.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo blocks Internet and SMS access in anticipation of protests

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) ordered a shutdown of Internet and SMS services prior to planned protests against President Kabila, citing security concerns, according to Reuters reporting.

According to Access Now, a digital rights NGO, the DRC ordered the telco Orange last year to slow Internet access to prevent the circulation of “abusive images” on Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social media apps. The DRC has also disrupted internet access a number of times, notably in 2015 and 2016 following demonstrations against President Kabila’s extended term in office. The block in the DRC is part of a regional and continent-wide trend of disrupting internet access for cited national security concerns or in the run up to political protests.

Germany begins enforcing “NetzDG” online hate speech law

The German network enforcement law "NetzDG" came into full-effect on January 1, marking an effort by the German government to crackdown on hate speech online. Signed last year, the law gave a grace period until the end of 2017 to providers to work towards compliance. Social networks with over two million subscribers such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube fall under the law and will have 24 hours to act on claims of law-breaking material or face fines.

A report in Deutsche Welle describes some of the changes happening at media companies:

“Google has also created an online form to report content, while Twitter has added an option to its existing report function that specifies ‘comes under the NetzDG.’ Facebook has set up a more complex system, independent of its reporting options, which requires users to find a special page, take a screenshot of the offending post, and choose one of 20 offenses that the post is allegedly committing. People do not have to be registered users of the network to report content.”

According to Reuters reporting, Twitter blocked a German satirical magazine account this week after the magazine parodied anti-Muslim comments; the Association of German Journalists point to the block as the result of compliance with the new law. Germany is known for having among the strictest laws concerning defamation, incitement to hatred and violence, and Holocaust denial.