How social media censorship works
September 2022

By Amy Cartledge

Following the news earlier this week that Iran’s government has restricted social media use within the country, we wanted to investigate precisely why authorities do this, how it affects protest, and look at exactly how effective social media is to promote unrest.


Banning social media


You need only look at the uprisings in the MENA region of 2011 (once commonly known as ‘The Arab Spring’), to know the importance of social media in disseminating information for protest. Academics across the world have labelled social media as a huge enabler of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution and subsequent unrest that was witnessed across North Africa. Images and video shared to popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter at the time showed what was possible once a collective stance was taken. 


As the power of social media becomes ever more apparent to oppressive regimes, the more action is taken to suppress it. We have seen all too often this year the ease at which governments can impose censorship.  


Why censorship?


Sharing images of successful unrest is inherently dangerous to an established status quo. Governments across the world have placed bans on social media and news outlets to stop the proliferation of such images in order to hold onto whatever power they still have.


Just earlier this year, it was reported that Sri Lanka placed a blackout on social media use after protests broke out across the country in response to a series of extreme economic failures. It was reversed within the space of a few hours following their failure to contain the ‘bad press’.


One platform in particular, Telegram, was initially set up to be the answer to fully encrypted messaging and avoid any kind of surveillance. Whereas the far-right have unfortunately managed to flourish because of this, it has also provided protestors fighting regimes the opportunity to discuss their unrest without fear. In response to this, it now stands as one of the most widely banned platforms during times of revolution.


Is censorship to this scale still possible?


The censorship of social media represents a seemingly archaic method of authoritarian governments to grasp onto the hold they have over the community. However, as seen with the blackouts witnessed in Sri Lanka, there now exist well-known methods to sidestep this, such as VPN.


However, it isn’t always as simple as using services like these, and many people who are fighting for change remain vulnerable and cut-off when censorship takes place. With Iran’s current blackout, some 400,000 businesses could go bust and one million Iranians could lose employment, causing a severe market crash. 


Although many of us would like to think that freedom of expression is one of the tenets of modern society, this authoritarian response to the publication of protest suggests that we are likely to see even more curtailed freedoms, and in turn, more innovative solutions around it.

See More Blog Posts

Read More Blog Posts